Guidelines for Covering Hostage-Taking, etc. For Journalism values

FROM MY WINDOW

By NENITA FUENTEBELLA-PEŇONES

After that hostage-taking incident at the Quirino Grandstand, Manila last week, there are Filipinos saying that they are ashamed of being Filipinos just because not all the Hongkong tourists were saved. Eight died and four were injured. But I am not ashamed of being a Filipino. It was done by only one hostage-taker, policeman Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza who claims to have been dismissed from service without due process by the Ombudsman. That was the fault of only one man and not all the people.

The Filipinos did not like what happened. The Filipinos feel sorry and have sympathy for the victims, but we should not be ashamed of ourselves. Hostage-taking happens not only in the Philippines but also in many parts of the world like the US, Europe, etc. Their governments have their own strategies on how to handle such crisis. I believe if President Aquino did not assign police matters to DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno, Sec. Jesse Robredo could have contributed his expertise on coordination having been director of BRBDP which is primarily a Planning and Coordinating Office. There was failure of coordination with media.

Let us not forget that millions of foreign tourists come to our country every year. Right here in Bicol, they come in great number yearly during the Penafrancia fiesta. So it is wrong to conclude that the Philippines is not a safe country and it does not take care of the safety of foreign tourists. Why do you think millions of Chinese are staying here if they do not feel safe in our country?

For whatever good it may serve, here’s an excerpt from the column of Jonathan de la Cruz in the Daily Tribune dated August 26, 2010.

“I am reprinting relevant excerpts of the Guidelines for Covering Hostage-Taking Crises, Prison Uprisings, Terrorist Actions written by Bob Steele, a Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values. It is my hope that the full tutorial not just on the coverage but on the proper handling of such situations will be made available to all concerned entities (media,police and other agencies) and appreciated by all including the “uzis” all over the place to prevent any more similar tragedies happening in the future.

Here goes: “In covering a developing raid or law enforcement action, journalists are advised to: Be extremely cautious to not compromise the secrecy of officials’ planning and execution. If staking out a location where a raid will occur or if accopanying officers, reporters and photographers should demonstrate great caution in how they act, where they go, and what clues they might inadvertently give that might compromise the execution of the raid. They should check and double check planning efforts.

“In covering an ongoing crisis situation, journalists are advised to: Always assume that the hostage taker, gunman or terrorist has access to the reporting; Avoid describing with words or showing with still photography and video any information that could divulge the tactics or positions of SWAT team members;Fight the urge to become a player in any stand off, hostage situation or terrorist incident. Journalists should become personally involved only as a last resort and with the explicit approval of top news management and the consultation of trained hostage negotiators on the scene; Be fortright with viewers, listeners or readers about why certain information is being withheld if security reasons are involved; Seriously weigh the benefits to the public of what information might cause. This is specially important in live reporting of an outgoing situation: Strongly resist the temptation to telephone a gunman or hostage taker. Journalists generally are not trained in negotiation techniques and one wrong question or inappropriate word could jeopardize someone’s life. Furthermore, just calling in could tie up telephone lines or otherwise complicate communication efforts of the negotiators; Notify authorities immediately if a hostage taker or a terrorists calls the newsroom. Also, have a plan ready ready for how to respond; Challenge any gut reaction to “go live” from the scene of the hostage crisis, unless there are strong journalists reasons for live, on-the-scene-report, things can go wrong very quickly in a live report, endangering lives or damaging negotiators; Give no information, factual or speculative, about a hostage-taker’s mental condition, state of mind, or reasons for actions while a stand off is in progress; Give no analyses or comments on a hostage taker’s or terrorists demands, as bizzare or ridiculous (or even legitimate) as such demands maybe, it is important that negotiators take all advantage seriously; Keep news helicopters out of the area where the standoff is happening as their noise can create communication problems as their noise can create communications problems and their presence could scare a gunman to deadly actions.

Do not report information obtained from police scanners. If law enforcement personnel and negotiators are compromised in their communications, their attempts to resolve a crisis are greatly complicated; Be very cautious in reporting on the medical condition ofhostages until after the crisis are concluded. Also, be cautious when interviewing family members or friends of those involved in stand off situations.Make sure the interview legitimately advances the story for the public and is not simply conducted for the shock value of the emotions conveyed or as a conduit for the interviewee to transmit messages to specific individuals and; Go beyond the basic story of the hostage taking or stand off to report on the larger issues behind the story, be it the report on the larger issues behind the story, be it the how and why of what happened, reports on the preparation and execution of the SWAt team or the issues related to the incident.

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