Oftentimes, the Court is confronted with the issue: Which right demands greater protection, the right to privacy or the freedom of expression or of the press? The so called balancing-of-interest doctrine gives the court the prerogative which right demands greater protection. In Lagunzad v. Sotto vda. De Gonzales (92 SCRA 476, August 6, l976), the Supreme Court defined the rule of balancing-of-interest as a principle which “requires a Court to take conscious consideration of the interplay of interests observable in a given type of situation”.
The Court further said that, “when expression touches upon matters of essential private concern, privacy right is paramount than freedom of expression” (cited in Aquirre, l995, 299). There are other rules or limitations upon the freedom of expression, it must however, be stressed that the Court in the exercise of its power of judicial review is not precluded from applying the appropriate rule in a given case. In short, a case will have to be decided with openness. Which rule to apply is a matter of judicial discretion.
The essence of constitutional democracy is the protection of fundamental liberties. The Bill of Rights governs the relationship between the individual and the State. Its concern is not the relation between the individuals, between a private individual and other individuals. The rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights are primarily directed against the abuses of the government in the exercise of the massive powers it has at its command. When the Court ruled that the proscription against unlawful searches and seizures, it is directed only against the government and its agencies that are tasked with enforcement of the law and not against private persons.
Directly interlaced with the right of the people against unreasonable searches and seizures is the right of communication and correspondence. This provision of the Constitution strengthens the privacy of men which must remain inviolable. The freedom of correspondence extends to convey one’s views and sentiments. It may be through letters, telegrams, signals, cables, telephone or any mode not prohibited by law.
A court cannot order a lawyer to disclose or divulge matters belonging to his client which is a breach of the confidentiality of lawyer-client relationship. In the same way, a medical practitioner cannot impart to anybody the health record of a person without his permission. If so judicially decreed, the privilege of communication and correspondence may be violated.
The right of the people to be let alone can also be invoked by the government. The President can invoke executive privilege in keeping his officials from testifying at legislative inquiry or the court, even if subpoenaed. The Judiciary in protecting its interest and in maintaining public order may ban press people inside a courtroom. Cameras inside a court may violate not only the privacy of the judges but also the privacy of the parties to the litigation. There are court cases which are highly sensitive such as rape that might arouse the sensitivities of the public. The victim has a right not to be exposed before the eyes of the public to suffer further abasement.
Moreover, media may take advantage of the proceedings and turn the courtroom into a theatrical presentation for its own benefit. Court proceedings before a camera may also provoke passion and violence thus, risk the security of the justices and the court personnel. However, critics of the camera ban advocate that the public has the right to access to information; that, the right to privacy of the justices should not come before the interest of the whole nation. Others say it is unconstitutional. However nobody questions its constitutionality before it. It is within the judicial power to make its own rules of procedures being supreme within its own sphere.
The right to free speech and the press is the body and soul of man without which his existence becomes empty and meaningless. Like the right to life, the right to judge public matters and concerns is important to guard to the uttermost the right to free speech and the press. The people therefore, have a duty to maintain such right, either verbally or through publication their guileless condemnations of the acts of government. If the State through fear and threats could silence the voices of the people regarding the conduct of the government, the people might as well say goodbye to the rule of law and democracy.
Freedom of the press and expression will be rendered useless unless the media are given free access to information on matters of public concern. This is their duty to the public and the people. Access to official records, papers and documents concerning government transactions and decisions and their accountabilities shall not be denied to citizens subject to limitations as may be provided by law. In line with the Constitional mandate that access to public information must not be denied a person, the Freedom of Information Act was enacted in l966.
The Act provides access to federal information or records by any person upon written request. It was later revised in l996 by passing the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments. The amendments provide for access to information in electronic data formatting and creation of internet sites through the government agencies (http://www.usdoj.gov/04foia/index.html).
While freedom of expression is sacred, it is however, neither a license nor is it illimitable. The Constitutional provisions on freedom of speech and of the press do not permit the publications and utterances of libelous, indecent articles or other publications injurious to public morals or private reputation. Media is not allowed to make public personal matters about a person without his consent.
A person’s private reputation is as much entitled to the protection of the law as to express one’s thought freely. Likewise, the existence of government is entitled to protection against seditious attacks. There is right to publish the truth but the right to publish falsehood to the injury of others cannot be allowed. Truth however, does not justify publication of morally reprehensible items inconsistent to public order and concern.
Aguirre, A., Jr. (l995). Postulate in Constitutional Law.-II. Philippines: Saint Pancratius
The United States Department of Justice. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Retrieved on
20 April 2008 at http://www.usdoj.gov/04foia/index.html