Forum assesses role of media in hostage crisis

N.B. This article was originally published in Asian Correspondent on August 30 and has been revised for this site. Click here to view the original post.

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Members of various Philippine media organizations called on the media community to evaluate their coverage of the Aug. 23 hostage crisis and to come up with a set of guidelines to be used during crisis situations.

At a forum titled “Unbound Hostages: Addressing Media Crisis Coverage” held Friday at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP CMC) Auditorium, journalists, media practitioners, professors, and students acknowledged the mistakes committed by media and the need to examine the application of fundamental ethical principles in covering crisis situations.

ABS-CBN Senior Vice President for News and Public Affairs Maria Ressa, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) (Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines) board member Roberto del Rosario, National Union of the Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Director Ilang-Ilang Quijano, and UP journalism professor and Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) Deputy Director Luis Teodoro served as speakers at the forum.

Review of ethical guidelines

The media has been hit by criticisms in its reporting of the hostage tragedy inside a tourist bus in Quirino Grandstand that left the hostage-taker and eight of his hostages dead.

Quijano said that journalists should follow guidelines in covering crisis situations laid down by various journalism institutions and journalism scholars.

“We urge news organizations to abide by these guidelines and to ensure that those it assigns to cover these crisis situations are adequately trained and informed,” she said.

She also pointed out that the incident highlighted the need for more training and education for media practitioners to exercise caution in the performance of their work.

Teodoro said that fundamental criteria in covering crisis situations are to “minimize harm” and to “not make the situation worse.”

“Media organizations should have enough sense to know when to delay coverage and when to stop,” he said.

In various reports, he expressed the opinion that the blow-by-blow account of the media might have provoked the hostage-taker into shooting his hostages.

Calls for discussion among media organizations

Ressa said that the hostage crisis stressed the need for media owners and industry leaders to meet and agree on a set of protocols to be used during similar situations.

“Let us unite and work together to put in place measures to collectively decide when we stop live coverage in the absence of government presence of mind,” she read from an ABS-CBN statement on the hostage crisis.

Teodoro agreed saying that media organizations should discuss the parameters, limits, and possibilities in covering crisis situations to reduce the tendency to try and outdo each other.

Authorities assailed

The speakers agreed that the police and the government, not the media, are primarily responsible for supposedly handling the situation and ensuring the safety of the hostages.

“In crisis situations, the struggle is between journalists whose goal is to tell the story and the authorities who must resolve the situation,” Ressa said.

She pointed out that lack of ground rules and crowd control measures supposedly laid out by authorities contributed to the worsening of the situation.

She added that controlling information is part of the resolution and that without the presence of rules, media will push for what they can get.

“Press freedom issues take a back seat during situations like this – where the government already has the power to define terms to the media,” she further said.

She also stressed that ABS-CBN will always cooperate with authorities in resolving complex issues similar to the Aug. 23 hostage crisis.

New threats to media

Teodoro expressed concerns that the hostage crisis resurrected his fears of the warning that the “media’s failure to regulate themselves will invite government regulation.”

He said that his fears were brought about by President Aquino’s statements on the hostage crisis and the emergence of bills aimed at imposing news blackouts during crisis situations.

He urged journalists to continue to oppose any attempt at legislated journalism ethics since news blackouts and delays in coverage will keep media ignorant of matters of public interest.

“These bills often have distorted purposes and cover more than what they originally intended, making them more and more restrictive,” he said.

Quijano agreed saying that legislated restrictions on media coverage are dangerous and could lead to government excesses and abuses.

Teodoro also emphasized that through responsible practice, media must show that the power and freedom that they have are well-deserved.


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