The Philippines reels after the violent end to the August 23 hostage crisis at Quirino Grandstand which killed several hostages and injured others. The hours-long saga was broadcast live on television and radio and kept the country, the world and perhaps even the hostage-taker informed of what was happening and not happening. Live media coverage has been dubbed as a negative factor in the crisis.
About media’s role in such situations, the country’s leading journalists’ organization issued this statement today:
A call for self-examination
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) grieves for the loss of so many lives in the hostage-taking at the Quirino Grandstand on Monday.
We condole with families of all the victims of this tragedy and we join the calls for a thorough and swift investigation on why and how the bloodbath happened.
The Philippine government and the Philippine National Police have already acknowledged errors and shortcoming in responding to and addressing the incident. We believe that they were primarily responsible for supposedly controlling the situation, ending the crisis and ensuring the safety of the hostages.
But even as we grieve, we call on colleagues in the media to seriously and comprehensively examine how we covered the crisis and if our coverage in any way contributed to the tragic end of the hostage-taking.
It is media’s responsibility to cover events and report these as comprehensively and truthfully as possible.
But some colleagues clearly violated ethical standards and established procedures and guidelines in covering crisis situations including hostage-taking incidents.
Various media institutions and journalism scholars have laid down guidelines in covering crisis situations including hostage-taking. 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.
We also encourage media owners, leaders and organizations to meet and agree on a set of protocols for the industry to guide us during similar situations.
The hostage-taking incident has once again highlighted the need for more trainings and education on our ranks to make sure that we do more good than harm in the performance of our work.
But even as we examine our actions and admit mistakes and shortcomings, we stand firm against abrogating our right to cover important events of public interest.
We oppose House Bill 2737 filed by Cebu Rep. Luis Quisumbing and similar measures aimed at imposing a media blackout during crisis situations. Legislated restrictions on media coverage are more dangerous and could pave the way for abuses and excesses by authorities in responding to crisis situations.