Bladed Fury

by Juan L. Mercado

The “sharpest sword” is controlled-fury spoken, the Buddha said.  Anti-crime crusader Teresita Ang See slashed with that blade at the killing of eight Hong Kong tourists probe.

“You had the line (to hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza),” a furious Ang See told Radyo Mo Nationwide (RMN) Michael Rogas and Jake Madarzo.  “But you didn’t bother to make an appeal to free them.”

“Ma’am Ang See was right,” Erwin Tulfo, TV5 chief correspondent told Justice Secretary Lila de Lima.  Media tried to “out scoop” each other. The rat race is for ratings that ping cash registers. Did the tourist hostage crisis morph into a “captive” of broadcast competition.

Among jostling broadcasters, Tulfo squeezed in a line to Mendoza. The bus TV monitor, showed arrest of the gunman’s brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, he reported. That triggered  Mendoza’s massacre.  

Did they jettison the Kapisanan Ng  Mga Brodkaster’s rule book? Or Poynter Institute’s  “Guidelines for Covering Hostage-Taking Crises” ?

“Strongly resist the temptation to telephone a hostage taker”, cautions Poynter.   ”One wrong question” from the untrained,  “could jeopardize someone’s life.”

“Calling could tie up phone lines or otherwise complicate  communication efforts by negotiators, the guidelines warn. “Always assume that the hostage taker has access to  the reporting”.

“Was a live report worth the hostage deaths?”, UP mass communication students pressed broadcasters. We violated no law, replied RMN’s anchors. We only reported. We are not negotiators. It’s not our fault.“

Inquirer columnist Rigoberto  Tiglao agrees. “The State’s overarching job is to save the victims, by whatever means,” he asserts in  “Media Will be Media” commentary. “Cruel as it may sound, concern about the safety of hostages can not be media’s  concern, even if we applaud media people whose priority is such….”

Inquirer’s Randy David is one of those. So am I. .In his column “Madness and Accountability,” David writes: “Where lives are  at stake…one does not need an explicit protocol for media behavior….RMN anchors kept hostage-taker Mendoza on the air.

This prompted investigating committee member Teresita Ang-See’s justified retort: “Your profession should never be more important than human lives.” David adds: “It  is what a commonsensical orientation to law and order requires of all citizens….       
Common sense compelled KBP to jettison blanket defense of member stations. Individual stations began internal reviews. GMA-7 said it would come up with revised guidelines.

ABS-CBN aired a report that pinpointed police deployment, wrote Kara Santos of Asia Media Forum. But it refused to air the hostage taker’s threats live. If negotiators called for a temporary  blackout, the station would have complied.
The Ang See “slashes” are compelling media to re-examine standards hewed from painful experience, whether with Somali pirates detaining seamen, , Abu Sayyaf  hostages in Sipadan to terrorists bundling of ambassadors from an Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting in Austria.

Associated Press to Der Speigel in Germany have their guidelines. All agree that saving of life is the main priority. Here are excerpts from  British Broadcasting Corporation guidelines:

“We should  consider ethical issues raised by providing a platform to hostage takers, especially if they make direct contact. We must remain in editorial control…Thus, we do not interview a perpetrator live on air… or broadcast any video and/or audio provided by a perpetrator

“We broadcast recordings made by perpetrators, whether of staged events, violent acts or their victims, only after referral to a senior editorial figure…. We delay broadcasting live material of sensitive stories, specially  when the outcome is unpredictable…

“When reporting stories relating to hijacking, kidnapping, hostage we must listen to advice from the police and other authorities about anything which, if reported, could exacerbate the situation.

“Occasionally the police will ask us to withhold information situation.  We will normally comply with a reasonable request, but we will not knowingly broadcast anything that is untrue”.

“The BBC procedure for dealing with such requests must be followed”  Translation:   Those who don’t are fired.  Will we see dismissals  in local stations?  .

Is the question here deeper than broadcasters whose adrenalin surges at the whiff of  gunpowder but see no further? Read  the New York Times obituary  on  the passing of  former  New York City police  chief  Simon  Eisdorfer.

From the 1972 hostage and murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich, Eisdorfer developed  today’s widely emulated hostage negotiation team.

A year later, his team secured release of 12 unharmed hostages at a Brooklyn sporting goods store. The gunmen surrendered after 47 hours — the first of many successful rescues

“He demonstrated effectiveness of protracted negotiation over armed confrontation.” New York Times said  “Developing the first guidelines for hostage negotiation, Mr. Eisdorfer de-emphasized confrontation, focusing instead on saving lives.”

Our broadcasters report, in detail, how many passengers a hostage bus could hold. But who noticed that Department of Interior  secretary Ronald Puno’s never crafted a negotiating team, even after two stints in office – 1998 to 2000 and 2006 to  2010.

Such a team would have made all the difference at  Luneta. But “we are  limited, alas, not by our abilities, but by our lack of  vision.”

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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