Friday, August 27, 2010

U.P. College of Mass Communication Dean, Faculty and Students score Media, Aquino Administration for bungled performances in Quirino Grandstand hostage taking incident

This is a press statement from concerned faculty members, students and staff from the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP CMC).

Journalists and media workers should know crisis reporting,
Aquino administration must be held accountable for disorganized police
Statement from 10 faculty members, 155 students and 4 staff
from the UP College of Mass Communication led by Dean Roland Tolentino
dated August 27, 2010

As the police need to review the handling of crisis situations, it is necessary for journalists and media workers to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses in reporting the hostage-taking last August 23 which left nine dead (including the hostage-taker) and seven wounded. Even if the media’s role is to help shape public opinion, the reporting of relevant information should be also in the context of ensuring the safety of civilians.
While our friends in the media should be commended for providing up-to-date information on what transpired, some media organizations should be criticized for the same reason because they ended up giving TOO MUCH information.

Commendation, however, cannot be given to the police as it failed not only to properly coordinate with media but also to ensure the peaceful resolution of the hostage-taking. Those responsible for the failed operation should even be punished. The disarray in the police operation reflects the disorganization and chaos in the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Aquino administration.

We need to remember some basic rules in covering hostage-taking incidents. First, journalists and media workers should refrain from interviewing a hostage-taker and reporting the latter’s statements while the situation is not yet resolved. Second, broadcast news anchors and field reporters who give live reports must not engage in speculation and innuendo as they try to “kill time” during a lull  in their reportage. Third, journalists and media workers should avoid interviewing elements of the police (e.g., snipers taking aim of their target) while an operation is ongoing. Fourth, they cannot report a hostage-taker’s state of mind or mental condition while there is still a standoff because it can make the situation worse. Fifth, they should be very careful when interviewing family members or friends of a hostage-taker as their statements could either even more agitate the latter. Sixth, they cannot give a live, blow-by-blow account of actual police operations as doing so eliminates the element of surprise in ending the crisis.

In analyzing the media’s coverage of what happened last August 23, there was  information that proved to be relevant not to the public but to the hostage-taker as he became desperate and ended up killing the hostages.

That media covered live the arrest of the hostage-taker’s brother apparently did not help in resolving the situation.

It is appalling that the live coverage was done not to help the public make sense of the situation but only to milk it for all it is worth. The competition for higher ratings among broadcast stations was evident as they tried to provide “exclusive” reports, even going to the extent of interviewing another hostage-taker in 2007 who expressed no remorse in what he did. He even claimed that he did it for the country.

Just like the police, media should use the time to reflect. Journalists and media workers, after all, should not allow themselves to be held hostage by their  ignorance of ethical practice because they will end up doing a disservice to the victims and the public. And on the part of the Aquino administration, it should be resolute in resolving crisis situations affecting not only visiting tourists but also the majority of the Filipinos.

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