Broadcast media lessons from the Manila hostage crisis

Posted at 08/22/11 10:36 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Aside from the botched police operation and subsequent finger-pointing by officials, broadcast media's coverage of the August 23, 2010 Manila hostage-taking was also severely criticized.

After an initial investigation by the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) and subsequent evaluation by Malacañang, the task of examining media's conduct during the live coverage eventually fell on the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP).

In an en banc decision that became final in March this year, the standards authority of the industry's self-regulatory body censured and fined ABS-CBN and TV5 P30,000 each for violating the broadcast code when they aired live the position of policemen in the failed rescue attempt.

The KBP also censured and fined radio station RMN-DZXL and broadcasters Michael Rogas (P15,000) and Erwin Tulfo (P10,000) for a lengthy live interview with hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza. The KBP said the duo got in the way of negotiations.

Light penalties

However, the watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) feels the penalties do not seem to be commensurate to the wrongdoing.

Among its options, the KBP chose not to suspend Rogas and Tulfo for the major ethical offense of interviewing Mendoza during the most crucial stages of the crisis.

The penalties were not commensurate to the offense.

KBP defended the penalties, saying this was the first offense for everyone involved.

"In the case of journalists ... alam naman natin na ang ating kredibilidad ang nakataya. That's the most important currency a journalist has ... and to be found guilty of violating an ethical practice is so much more a penalty than the amount imposed upon them," said Atty. Reggie Jularbal, KBP spokesman and legal counsel.

No GMA-7 probe

KBP did not include in its investigation the live coverage of GMA-7, since the network is not a member of the organization.

"Considering that GMA-7 is not a member of KBP and is neither under jurisdiction of KBP nor governed by provisions of the broadcast code, we did not as we could not include them in our investigation," Jularbal said.

The KBP decision also came under fire from the CMFR.

RMN-DZXL, meanwhile, acknowledged there were lessons learned.

"Looking forward, alam na nating lahat na mga mediamen ano ang gagawin pagdating sa krisis ngayon, pati gobyerno ngayon, pati mga pulis alam na rin nila na kailangan nilang i-satisfy ang pangangailangan ng impormasyon hindi lang nga mga mediamen kundi pati ng publiko," said RMN-DZXL consultant Jake Maderazo.

Beyond the censure and the fine, the KBP's investigation resulted in amendments to the broadcast code, which many hope would prevent a repeat of media's own mistakes during the Manila hostage taking.