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Friday, August 27, 2010

0 Black Day for Media

This is a copyrighted property of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Philippine Daily Inquirer Editorial, August 27, 2010

Last Monday’s hostage incident that saw the death of eight Hong Kong Chinese tourists as well as their hostage-taker, dismissed Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza, was a black day not only for the Philippine National Police, but also for the Philippine broadcast media. Press experts and President Benigno Aquino III himself agreed that television news inordinately got involved in the hostage drama, breaking the police line and shooting an extraordinary amount of footage that was broadcast in uninterrupted 24/7 fashion, giving away whatever the police were doing to stem the crisis and bring it to a peaceful resolution. Mr. Aquino said that media’s intensive coverage “provided a wealth of information” to Mendoza, who was watching television on the bus “throughout the whole time.”

The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) has defended broadcast networks. Referring to the KBP Television Code and protocols of individual networks, the KBP leadership said, “We believe they have adhered to these standards.”

Indeed, the code has provisions governing media conduct. The Code, for example, has an article on “crime and crisis situation” such as “kidnapping and hostage-taking” in which broadcast agencies are enjoined not to “put lives in greater danger than what is already inherent in the situation.” Such coverage should be “restrained and care should be taken so as not to hinder or obstruct efforts of authorities to resolve the situation.” The Code adds, “The coverage of crime or crisis situations shall not provide vital information or offer comfort or support to the perpetrators.”

But alas, these protocols were honored more in the breach than in the observance last Monday. Media men were swarming all over the place. It didn’t help that the Mack Sennet cops of the Manila Police District (MPD) and its Special Weapons and Tactics Team failed to cordon off the place. But they did ask the media not to air sensitive footage. And although certain television network editors exercised restraint at first, they couldn’t resist the temptation of beating the competition and relaxed their gatekeeping responsibilities. The result: even before Mendoza started his shooting rampage, their camera crews were already shooting happily away, including, tragically enough, the commotion arising from the arrest of the hostage-taker’s brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza. The hostage-taker saw the commotion on television inside the bus, and he snapped and started shooting the victims.

The broadcast media cannot wash their hands for triggering the bloodbath; at the very least, they cannot ignore the fact that they had worsened the crisis. For example, in order to fill up dead air and beat the competition, one television station aired an interview with Armando Ducat Jr., who had taken hostage a busload of school kids and their teachers in 2007. In the interview, Ducat said he understood Mendoza’s frustration in not having his grievances addressed. His remarks were tantamount to an endorsement of hostage-taking.

Television also showed insensitivity to the plight of the victims when it sought to interview the driver as he fled from the tourist bus: the driver was barely out of harm’s reach and here was television making a dash to interview him. Similarly, in another instance of how the police and the media fed on each other’s incompetence and stupidity, after Mendoza had apparently been shot dead, TV reporters were already interviewing the SWAT sniper who proudly claimed to the world that he was the one who shot the hostage-taker dead. And minutes after the bus attack, television was showing footage of the brutal scene. The cops again failed to cordon off the place for crime-scene investigation and the media were happily shooting away. Meanwhile, TV reporters went on the air weeping and breaking down over the bloodshed, emotions overcoming them, a soap opera featuring bungling cops and mercenary media men.

MPD director, Chief Supt. Rodolfo Magtibay has taken a leave and Chief Insp. Santiago Pascual of the SWAT has resigned in the wake of public uproar over the PNP’s mishandling of the crisis. The broadcast media should make a similar gesture by conducting an inquiry as to whether or not they observed the protocols which they themselves set in the spirit of self-regulation. Every journalist knows the adage that no story is worth dying for. TV stations should realize the adage’s corollary meaning: No story is worth putting other people’s lives in danger.

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