The blog of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, or PCIJ, has made history — of sorts. Last week, the PCIJ was served with a court order to remove this Aug. 12, 2005 post related to an ongoing political scandal. The scandal revolves around taped wiretaps allegedly of Philippine Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordering an election official to rig her election. The President admitted the voice on the tape was hers, but her government claimed that the recordings had been doctored. Opposition politicians seized on the ensuing controversy to lead an aborted attempt at her impeachment.
The PCIJ post revealed information from a police dossier on the background of Jonathan Tiangco, an audio expert presented to dispute the authenticity of the recordings. The post described several criminal cases against Tiangco and mentioned that Tiangco had two wives. In October, Tiangco's spouse requested a temporary restraining order against PCIJ, which a lower court granted after the Philippine Supreme Court turned down her petition. The order enjoined PCIJ for 20 days from “broadcasting, publishing or posting or causing to broadcast, publish, or post articles and statements similar and related to, or connected and in conjunction with” that blog post. In its post announcing the gag order and the removal of the post, PCIJ directed its readers to look to Google if they wanted to know the deleted post's contents.
The action spurred much commentary across the Philippine blogosphere, particularly among its most active participants: journalist-bloggers and lawyer-bloggers. Media blogger Jove Francisco fretted that the court action could frustrate efforts by both the local mainstream media and bloggers to police themselves, while columnist-blogger Dean Jorge Bocobo calculated that the Tiangco action will end up where most libel suits in the Philippines go: dead in the water. Law professor-blogger Edwin Laceirda launched an email-writing campaign. Journalist-blogger Manuel L. Quezon III called for full support of PCIJ. Sassy Lawyer isn't so sure, pointing out that the PCIJ backgrounder on Tiangco didn't have to mention his marital arrangements:
[I]f you must write to the Supreme Court regarding this issue, then write you must. We all want to see the right to freedom of expression upheld. But neither should we triviliaze Rona Tiongco’s right to privacy. If we do that, we triviliaze our own right to privacy.
Other bloggers wondered about the reach of the order. Technology blogger yuga asked: “What if every other Filipino blogger re-posts the entry in their respective blogs?” Some already have. Another intriguing and potentially far-reaching question: In directing blog readers to a Google cache, did PCIJ violate its obligation to refrain from “causing to broadcast, publish, or post articles and statements similar and related to, or connected and in conjunction with” the post? Law professor J.J. Disini thinks there is an argument that it did.