I just want to share my paper that I wrote for my postgraduate class. =)
A FEAST ON A BLOODBATH: Analyzing the Blow-by-blow coverage of the Media in the Quirino Grandstand Hostage taking Tragedy
By Earvin Charles B. Cabalquinto
ALL EYES ON THE MEDIA
Last Monday night, I was about to sleep when my senses were jolted with the avalanche of news on the bloody end of the hostage drama in Quirino Grandstand. As an overseas worker who doesn’t have access on TFC or Pinoy TV in Brunei, I just followed the reports through various social media sites– from Facebook to Twitter – to keep me updated. As reports came in, the aftermath of the hostage taking left Rolando Mendoza, the hostaGe taker and eight hostages dead. On top of that, the Hong Kong government blackballed our country for their civilians.
Two days after the rampage, the media is now being blamed for jeopardizing the operations of the police and military during the negotiation with Rolando Mendoza. As academicians and journalists assess the situation, it is believed that the careless airing of the sensitive details such as the arrest of Mendoza’s brother Gregorio worsened the hostage taking; as we all know, Mendoza monitored the live coverage on the bus TV. On top of that, there is a further scrutiny that the blow-by-blow coverage "telegraphed'' the actions of the Special Weapons and Tactics assault team, as articulated by Nestor Burgos, president of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and Inquirer correspondent in Iloilo.
In relation to the brouhaha on the mass media’s insensitive coverage, reports say that Cebu Representative Gabriel Luis Quisumbing filled House Bill No. 2737. According to Quisimbing, “media coverage should be contained as not to hinder or obstruct efforts to resolve the situation.” Under the bill, crisis situation may include hostage taking, bomb threats, coup d’ etat, and kidnapping. Persons who violate the measure faces imprisonment of up to six years and a fine of P20,000. Quisumbing said the measure is not meant to curtail press freedom, but aims to protect lives.
A “DRAMEDY” WITHIN A DRAMA
We live in a democratic country. A part of our democracy is the existence of what we call “freedom of expression.” Although blurred by policies, hampered by external factors, and violated at most on human rights issues, that freedom of expression has always been a flagship of the media in writing or exposing the realities in the different sectors of our society. However, in relation with what we saw on the Quirino Grandstand Blood Bath, the media’s freedom to express or convey messages somewhat contributed in the complications of a more problematical tactics of the police force. It was the lack of coordination and strategic standard procedures to follow are now at a debate.
It has always been a protocol for a news reporter to get the lead of the story, the facts and information. And from the gathered information, stories will be written, visuals shall be shot, editing takes in, and reporters will be on air. Relatively, on developing the news or stories, reporters get inputs and directives from their superiors. In my opinion, this form of communication affects the processing of the information before delivering it to the public. And so, a big chunk of responsibility in the coverage doesn’t only have to be burdened by the reporters, but by the network managers.
With an understanding that a hostage taking is a sensitive situation and that the hostage-taker had an access to a television that served as a portal for monitoring, the media should have assessed it’s protocol in covering the drama. Along the line, the media should have communicated with the officers in charge and vice versa. Sadly, there was a dearth in communicating the essential key points in solving the negotiation such as the distance of coverage or what topics that could trigger the unstable behavior of the hostage taker. With these thoughts, yes, the media could be accountable on what happened. However, the media should not the only one be blamed. We must understand that there was also the presence of the policemen and the military men who were key players in giving the overall protocol or strategy.
The interview with the relatives, colleagues and neighbors of Mendoza was unnecessary. It is very obvious that such scoop of stories is a byproduct of the ratings games. And this is very obvious with how networks “create” that sense of “exclusivity” on air; who’s the first to get an interview on the different “characters.” As such, such handling on the drama was sprinkled with an intention to not only deliver news but to create a spectacle that will attract more viewers. In my opinion, should the media want to interview the relatives of Mendoza, this should be done after the rampage subsides. And in the first place, Mendoza was not asking for his relatives. Obviously, the media have created a drama inside a running drama. Yes, a saleable and hyped story within a story.
The question is, should there be a media blackout on these cases? In my case, blocking out the media on its coverage is not democratic. The media can shoot whatever they think would be beneficial in building their lead. However, in such cases, considering that the hostage taker monitors the situation outside the bus through a television and knowing that he’s an ex-policeman, the media should be rhetorically sensitive and be advised on the information that might aggravate the situation. It all boils down in communicating what is there to be helpful in solving the rage.
WHAT’S THE PROTO-CALL?
Most of the academicians, journalists and some government officials say that “self-restraint” should be observed in any aggravated situation such as hostage taking, terrorism and conflict as to prevent worsening the situation. In my opinion, more than self-restraint, there should be a review on the standard protocols on how the media and the police will team up in addressing crisis situations. Aside from the role assignment, there should be clarifications on what to be delivered or aired. Yes. The hostage drama is given. However, peppering it with other ingredients may hamper the objectives of solving the problem. Bottom line, communication plays an important role in strategizing plan of actions.
On one hand, the policemen and military team should also be educated and trained more. There should be a review of tactics and as they say, a review of the rules of engagement – from negotiating, deploying the team, handling of hostages’ safety and the strategic attack. On top of the training and strategic deployment, a high official should be active in negotiating or directing the actions of the team. If only these things are considered and practiced, the blood bath won’t like be a feast of pointing fingers.