Draft law restricting journalists' courtroom rights meets opposition

By Vu Tuan, Hoai Tu   April 16, 2024 | 04:58 pm PT
Draft law restricting journalists' courtroom rights meets opposition
Journalists work at a trial of Covid-19 flight bribery by observing it through a screen at a court in Hanoi, July 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Danh Lam
Journalists and legal experts are objecting to a draft law amendment that imposes limits on how journalists can record both audio and video in a courtroom.

The Supreme People’s Court proposed in the draft amendment to the Law on Organization of People’s Courts that recordings be conducted only during trials’ opening sessions and the announcement of verdicts.

The proposal is being considered by National Assembly agencies.

But journalists have already encountered trouble doing their jobs in the courtroom.

At major trials the past months regarding the Covid-19 repatriation flight bribery scandal and the Covid-19 test kit scam, which involved former top government officials, as well as the recent hearing of Van Thinh Phat, the biggest fraud case ever tried in Vietnam, journalists were only allowed to bring pens and paper.

Vu An, a journalist with Dan Viet newspaper, said: "Not being allowed to record or film in the courtroom makes it very difficult for journalist to convey the information to the readers, given the big number of statements from the accused, and the complications of grand cases."

An said with recordings, journalists can verify their own writings and avoid being sued for publishing false information.

Journalist Nguyen Hoang Hai, who has many years of experience reporting trials in Hanoi, said the proposal is hampering journalistic work and goes against the spirit of "public hearings" stipulated in the Constitution, which says that a hearing is only closed to protect national secrets, national prestige, or to protect underage people or personal secrets based on one’s "righteous demands."

Nguyen Quang Dong, director of the Institute for Policy Studies and Media Development, said that in the age of information technology, journalists cannot be banned from making recordings in the courtroom.

The proposal "deprives journalists of a series of rights," he said.

Dong said the Code of Civil Procedure, the Law on Administrative Procedure, and the Law on Press all allow journalists to attend a public trial and report "as it happens."

The accused have the right to a fair trial, which needs public supervision by the press, he said, arguing that in order to do this journalists should get to record and film an entire trial.

The Supreme People’s Court’s presiding judge Nguyen Hoa Binh has said that journalists’ cameras in the courtroom cause distractions for judges, prosecutors and lawyers.

But Dong said the legal team need to be trained better to avoid being distracted. "Journalists’ rights to film and record inside the courtroom need to be protected," he said.

Lawyer Trinh Van Tuyen also objected to the law proposal.

Tuyen said filming and recording are typical tasks of a journalist’s work, and will help guarantee accurate information about the trials, in comparison with unverified information spread on social media.

He said a public trial should be considered a public activity for national interest that helps prevent crime.

"Thus, newspapers do not need to ask for permission from people at the trial when using their images. The [Supreme Court] cannot cite human rights to restrict journalists from recording and filming in the courtroom," Tuyen said.

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