Portugal – Coverage of Judicial Processes (2003)

Declaration of Principles and Agreement of the Media in Relation to the Coverage of Judicial Processes. It was made public in Lisbon on 27 November 2003, it was subscribed by all the major media in Portugal.

Considering the right of the media to inform;

Considering the right of each and every citizen to inform himself or herself and to be informed;

Considering the right of access to information sources on the part of journalists;

Considering the importance of the protection of the journalists’ information sources;

Considering the freedom of the press and the media;

Considering the role of the media in informing public opinion, which is indeed considered a pivotal condition for the existence of a democratic and open society;

Emphasising that, in addition to the specificity of the work of the judicial authorities and the specificity of the work of the media, the justice system and the media converge in the establishment of facts;

Emphasising that, during the investigative phase and/or during the trial phase in certain proceedings, this objective is obstructed and, in some cases, seriously compromised by excesses in opacity that objectively constitute invitations to unwelcome imprecision and speculation and also to reductive versions of the facts reflecting various degrees of tactical interest;

And taking into consideration the applicable legislation and, in particular, the “Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to the Member States on the provision of information through the media in relation to criminal proceedings”, adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 10.07.03;

The editors-in-chief, editors and news directors of the media signing this Definition of Principles and Agreement;

While naturally,

Recognising that the rights to inform, to inform oneself and to be informed are limited by constitutional restrictions designed to safeguard other fundamental rights, liberties and guarantees;

Recognising the indispensable nature of the responsible reconciliation of the freedoms of expression and information and other human rights;

Recognising the dignity and independence of the Courts as structuring institutions of open and democratic societies;

Recognising the value of the regulations for judicial proceedings, which are indeed indispensable in ascertaining the truth;

Recognising that the judicial system, no matter how rapid it may be, is bound – by means of judicial proceeding regulations, some of which protect essential liberties and human rights – to its own time scale system, and to its own succession of timings, that naturally do not coincide with the timings of the media;

Recognising the legal limits to public intervention on the part of the judges and the magistrates of the Public Prosecution Office in matters relating to the proceedings in their charge;

Consider it opportune and fundamental to declare:

1. That, naturally, they act and will continue to act in accordance with their legal, professional and ethical commitment to apply strict rigour to the provision of information;

2. That they investigate, divulge and comment but do not accuse, judge or condemn, and in particular do not question the right of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty;

3. That they respect the individual rights of the accused in the proceedings, and all other persons involved, namely witnesses, and, in particular, the more vulnerable in the diverse trial phases;

4. That their essential roles of the quest for and provision of information be indeed recognised in their work of investigation, the rigorous reproduction of the facts, and responsible and free commentary, above all when dealing with information of public interest;

5. That the importance of their commitment to examining how the penal justice system functions should be recognised, as it is of benefit in social and cultural terms and in terms of transparency of the judicial system;

6. That they hope that judicial confidentiality functions merely as a criterion that is indispensable for the performance of justice and the defence of human rights and does not translate, in certain cases, to unnecessary situations of opacity that objectively obstruct the rights to inform, to inform oneself and to be informed and contribute to imprecision, supposition, speculation and lack of rigour;

7. That they should have access to the information that the judicial authorities and police services are in a position to provide, taking into account:

– the legitimate differences, capacities of initiative, and approach to the criterion of investigative journalism each media has;

– but also the indispensable nature of an objective, non-selective and non-discriminatory relationship;

– combining the supply of accessible information at the request of the media with a more indiscriminate relationship with the media, namely in the form of press communiqués, press conferences and other means;

8. That they consider the creation of conditions for accessibility to the public hearings of the trials to be essential, especially with regard to trials of manifest public interest, whereby the signatories guarantee their full contribution to avoiding the risk of improper influence on parties involved in said trials;

9. That they consider it to be of the greatest importance that the judicial system and the media develop a relationship that is conducive to perfecting the knowledge journalists have of the legal and regulatory framework and the proceedings in the area of justice and to enlightening the agents of the justice system about the practices and work of the media;

10. That they regard this initiative as a contribution to the development of that relationship, naturally in a framework of mutual independence and respect.

The consequences of this Agreement/Declaration of Principles – a document achieved with the contribution of the High Authority for the Media – shall be subsequently assessed by said body.

This document may be signed by all editors-in-chief, editors and news directors that consider that the principles it contains reflect the views they hold.

[Translation provided by AACS, “Alta autoridade para a comunicaçao social”, halfway between regulatory agency and press council]

[Source: www.rjionline.org]

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