Much of the criticism surrounding the handling of the Manila hostage crisis that ended in the preventable deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists had to do with the intrusive coverage of the event by the Philippine Media. Had the hostage-taker, ex-police officer Rolando Mendoza, (who had access to a TV set installed in the besieged bus) not been kept abreast of police personnel movements and not witnessed the spectacle of his brother being manhandled by police officers — both transpiring in front of TV cameras — many observers think the incident could have ended differently.
Indeed, British security analyst Charles Shoebridge included temporarily shutting out the Media in his list of ten things Filipino cops could have done differently.
[…] police should always consider putting a barrier or screen around the area, to shield the scene from the cameras and keep the hostage taker in the dark.
But according to Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (“League of Philippine Broadcasters” — KBP, in short) National President Herman Basbaño, the concept of “news blackout” is “not in our vocabulary anymore“. Basbaño further insists that…
“The problem is not the media coverage, but the mismanagement of the crisis. From the start, there was already a problem in controlling the crowd, including the members of the media,” he said.
The work of the media is to cover everything it sees and hears, he said.
In effect, Basbaño argues that reporters are well within their rights to act like a bunch of buffoons and all responsibility for managing this behaviour pretty much falls squarely outside of their scope of accountability. This view is not too different from blogger Rom’s take on the matter…
The media is like a river. Just as a river will flow where it can, so too will media follow a story wherever it can, with scant regard for the bigger picture. That’s the nature of the beast. The sooner government learns that, the better the relationship with media becomes.
In this case, the police should have been firmer with the media. Just a few hours ago, Noynoy fielded a question on this issue exactly.
But then I recall not too long ago seeing a demonstration of an ability in the Media to exhibit initiative in taking accountability for its actions to the extent of even policing its ranks. That ability was exhibited in response to the abduction of journalist Ces Drilon back in the 7th of June 2008 and was highlighted by then FilipinoVoices.com (FV) blogger Ding Gagelonia in his “report” (my boldface/italics for emphasis)…
This running story [of Drilon’s abduction] first broke on the news wires of the Associated Press and is being carried both by the International Herald Tribune, with at least two local broadsheets bannering the report despite a news blackout clamped by police authorities and, in journalistic parlance, a story embargo requested by ABS-CBN, a practice normally honored by all journalists.
So there you go. According to industry insider Ding Gagelonia, Media people actually are capable of self-imposed restraint. Seems to me then that even for the famously self-righteous Philippine Media community, all is relative. When lives at stake in a newsworthy crisis involves one of their own, restraint is the order of the day. All the rest of us non-insiders are fair game.
Thus is revealed the sort of principles held dear by an industry that was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the 1986 Edsa “Revolution” led by the mother of current Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
In my 2008 article “Restraint” and the average Pinoy schmoe written in response to many more of such updates on Drilon’s plight published by then FV resident “reporter” Ding Gagelonia, I just couldn’t help highlighting the point to death in reference to ABS-CBN’s supporting a Government call for “media restraint” as Drilon’s abduction drama unfolded…
I find it a bit interesting that an institution (or, more appropriately, an industry) that built much of its clout around the notion of its entitlement to information (glossing over the fact that it re-sells said information at a profit) is suddenly echoing a Government call in support of a Government operation. These are the same people who called out troop movements blow-by-blow over public airwaves as Government troops besieged rebel soldiers in Camp Aguinaldo in one of those post-Edsa1 “rebellions” back in the late 80’s (endangering the lives of the assaulting troops).
Remember that this was 2008, when then President Gloria Arroyo could do no good in the eyes of the Philippine Media. But then the victim at the time was a journalist — a Media person — so exceptions were made.
It is unfortunate that none of the hostages in last Monday’s tragedy was a Media insider. Perhaps if there was even one “reporter” inside that bus, the Philippine Media would have been a bit better motivated to do the right thing.