IIRC First Report - Evaluation of media coverage

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 20 2010 06:00 PM | Updated as of Sep 21 2010 05:57 AM

EVALUATION of MEDIA COVERAGE

The incident in review was given extensive tri-media (television, media and print) coverage. Major television networks pre-empted their regular programming to cover the incident. Even foreign press correspondents were on the scene in the afternoon of August 23, 2010.

There were several aspects of the coverage by the media that are the subject of scrutiny of the Committee. These are:

  1. The showing of tactical or strategic footages particularly sniper positions and the assault by the SWAT and subsequently, the augmentation by the SAF;
  2. The coverage on the arrest or taking into custody of SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza (brother of the Hostage Taker;
  3. The interview over the radio by Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) station DZXL with Michael Rogas as anchorman.

The Sniper Positions and the Assault

Several footages taken by cameramen of television networks that were aired showed the right side of the bus from the angle of a sniper (taken from behind and showing the rifle pointed towards the right side of the bus).

When the assault on the bus was carried out, footages of the SWAT assault teams were shown by various television networks starting from the time the assault teams were deployed, the positions they took and the attempts to breach the bus. The subsequent assistance by the SAF team, their positions at the back of the bus, and their attempts to breach the bus were also aired. There were also footages of the positions of the SWAT at the front of the bus.

The Arrest or Taking of SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza Into Custody

The incident involving Gregorio Mendoza, the brother of the Hostage Taker, was given coverage by all media organizations positioned at the entrance of the Police Command Post. This included the shouting of Gregorio Mendoza that he was being arrested, claiming that he was going to be killed and his pleas that he was not involved in the hostage taking, and his claims of innocence, his being protected by members of his family and his being handcuffed and forcibly taken into custody.

The Interview of the Hostage Taker by Michael Rogas of Radio Station DZXL

The transcript of the interview by Michael Rogas indicate that the interview was taking place even prior to the delivery of letter from the Ombudsman to the Hostage Taker and up to the time the Hostage Taker started shooting the hostages.

Crisis situations are “news worthy” events and media coverage is expected. There is no statute that prohibits the coverage by media of what can be classified as “crisis situations”. This is understandable because of constitutional issues that are inherent in any law limiting constitutionally protected primary rights. However, because lives may be at stake, media organizations have ethical and operational rules and regulations on how media personnel should conduct themselves in the coverage of a crisis situation. Also, because of the potentially adverse effect on the resolution of a crisis situation, the PNP have institutionalized directives on how to handle media during a crisis situation. Ethical rules and regulations governing journalist covering a crisis situation, locally and internationally, vary in the manner they are phrased, but the essence of the ethical rules and considerations are the same. These ethical rules, regulations and considerations, or even guidelines, do not also prohibit the coverage of crisis situations by journalists but merely lay the rules of engagement and ethical considerations. For this purpose, the following are the relevant rules of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), the national organization of the Philippine broadcast industry, in the coverage of crisis situations found in its Broadcast Code.

Crime and Crisis Situations

Sec. 1. The coverage of crimes in progress or crisis situations such as hostage-taking or kidnapping shall not put lives in greater danger than what is already inherent in the situation. Such coverage should be restrained and care should be taken so as not to hinder or obstruct efforts of authorities to resolve the situation.

Sec. 2. A coverage should avoid inflicting undue shock and pain to families and loved ones of victims of crimes, crisis situations, disasters, accidents, and other tragedies.

Sec. 3. The identity of victims of crimes or crisis situations in progress shall not be announced until the situation has been resolved or their names have been released by the authorities. The names of fatalities should be aired only when their next of kin have been notified or their names released, by the authorities.

Sec. 4. The coverage of crime or crisis situations shall not provide vital information or offer comfort or support to the perpetrators.

Sec. 5. Stations are encouraged to adopt standard operating procedures (SOP’s) consistent with this Code to govern the conduct of their news personnel during the coverage of crime and crisis situations.

Some media outlets or networks also have their own internal guidelines on the coverage of crisis situations by their personnel but they all have similar tenor with generally accepted guidelines, including the KBP that of the KBP Broadcast Code.

There are basically four principles involved:

  1. Non-endangerment of the lives of all concerned, which includes the lives of hostages, the hostage taker, the authorizes engaged in resolving the crisis, as well as the journalists concerned
  2. Non-interference as this could adversely affect the manner authorities are resolving the crisis situation;
  3. The non-involvement of journalists in the crisis situation since it would affect the objectivity of the journalists
  4. The presumption that the perpetrator (hostage taker, criminals etc.) have access to what is being aired by media outlets.

Because of past experiences involving PNP personnel and journalists covering crisis situations, the PNP have their guidelines for observance by their personnel during a crisis situation. The PNP guidelines were a result of consultation with media organizations so that there is are acceptable “terms of engagement” between the police authorities and media personnel covering a crisis situation.

The Significance of a Police Line

It is expected that the police authorities establish a secure perimeter or the “police line” around the area of a crisis incident that defines the boundary beyond which media is prohibited. This is an accepted “term of engagement” between Philippine media organizations and the police consistent with their respective guidelines. It is founded on the principles that while media has the task or responsibility of informing the public, in the case of crisis situations, media coverage could be restricted in the interest of preventing loss or injury to life. In addition, the right of the public to know information, delivered through media, is limited to what the public has access to if they were personally present in the location subject of media coverage. Stated otherwise and in connection with the police line, the information that media could provide the viewing or listening public in a crisis situation is limited to that which the public could normally observe or gather outside of the police line. In fact, in crisis situations, crowd control by the authorities encompasses “media control”.

In the incident under review, media did not cross the established police line. Media reporters and equipment were positioned outside of the established police perimeter. It must be noted that while there were areas not cordoned-off, media were, however, following instructions of the authorities given over a megaphone.

“On-air” Footages

While the general rule is media could air information that is normally accessible to the public, there are exceptions to this rule. It is when the information or footage might potentially endanger lives. This is because of the presumption that the hostage taker (or perpetrator in other types of crisis situations) has access to what is being aired by media outlets, particularly television and radio, which has an element of immediacy (live) as distinguished from print media which is “day after news”. That the Hostage Taker in this instance was watching television, and the channel he was viewing, was not just presumed but was a fact known to the police authorities.

Examples of “on air” footages that could be restricted are:

  1. Those that reveal the position of troops or their movement;
  2. Other tactical information such as, the number of police personnel, their equipment, tactical plans etc. ;
  3. In certain instances, the identity of persons involved including the victims;

Were there “on air” footages on television/radio that should have been restricted? Obviously there were. These were (1) the showing of the bus from the vantage point of the sniper which showed the rifle pointed towards the right side of the bus and (2) the assault of the bus by the SWAT and subsequently with the assistance of the SAF.

The “sniper footage” did not directly reveal the position of the sniper nor was there a verbal report on the position. But as the saying goes, “A picture speaks a thousand words”. It must be noted that the Hostage Taker is a police officer, a fact known by media. He would readily know that the video footage was from a sniper’s position because the footage included taking it from a position showing a rifle aimed at the right side of the bus. By simple deduction, the Hostage Taker would know the relative position of the sniper including the type of rifle being used. He would therefore be guided accordingly i.e. avoid providing a visual of himself on the right side of the bus negating any tactical advantage of the sniper.

The “assault footages” speak for themselves. They not only showed (live or on real time) that an assault was taking place but also the relative position (at least on the right side) of the assaulting troops, their number, the equipment being used, and their progress (or lack thereof).

Who is responsible for what was aired on broadcast media? Reporters covering the incident are being blamed for the showing of the above footages. This should be clarified in relation to how broadcast media organizations actually operate.

When news reporters and their supporting crew, i.e., camera men, communication links etc. are sent to cover an event, their basic mandate is to get as much news worthy information, footages, voice clips and sound bites as they can. The decision on what goes on the air is not of the reporters’. There were footages that were taken from various locations and covering various situations connected with the incident that were not aired. The decision on what goes on the air is made by the producer(s) and/or director(s) in charge of the coverage who are located at the station not the site and, to a certain level, the anchor person.

On the side of the authorities, it must be pointed out that because of the nature of how media operate, the media personnel on the ground take their cue from the authorities particularly the police officer assigned to coordinate with media. In the incident under review, it was not clear as to who this person was. A certain PCI (Major) Margarejo was giving information to media from noon to about mid afternoon, however, this giving of relevant information and coordination with media personnel ceased by about 4p.m. No coordination was ever made other than in relation to the established police line. A megaphone was being used at the police line to issue instructions to the crowd gathered and to media.

It must also be emphasized that the persons charged with resolving the crisis incident knew what was being aired by broadcast media because they were also partially relying on feeds from media outlets particularly television. Since they were also the ones on-the-know on potential tactical maneuvers, they were in a position to assess the impact of media coverage on such maneuvers. Media did not know how, or when, the coverage might potentially affect police operations as media were operating within established parameters at that time. No coordination with media was ever made on this aspect. The “terms of engagement” between the authorities resolving the crisis situation and media is that directives on restricted coverage will come from the authorities. This is not to say that media is free from responsibility because there are ethical rules and guidelines that they should have observed when it became evident that what was being covered and aired were tactical details. Self-restraint or self-regulation by the media outlets concerned should have been observed.

The Coverage of SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza Being Taken Into Custody

A critical incident that involved the coverage by media, particularly television and radio, was the incident involving the arrest or taking into custody of SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza. Correlated with the testimonies of Lubang and the survivors, as well as audio recordings on what was transpiring inside the bus, the incident involving Gregorio, made vivid to the Hostage Taker through television, indicates that seeing what was being done to his brother on television appeared to be the tipping point that led the Hostage Taker into shooting the hostages. The Hostage Taker was heard shouting for the police to release his brother and giving deadlines for the release. He was also heard asking why his brother was being treated “like a pig”. It was while this incident was taking place, and immediately thereafter, that the shooting of hostages took place.

Were the reporters covering the incident involving Gregorio Mendoza responsible for the reaction of the Hostage Taker? It must be noted that the incident, which was a “news worthy” incident, practically fell on the laps of the reporters situated at the entrance of the Advance Command Post of the police. Gregorio Mendoza ran to them shouting that he was being arrested and, claiming his innocence, lay on the ground resisting attempts of the police to subdue and take him into custody. Television footage of the police forcibly taking Gregorio into custody was also taken and aired. Some footage showed the police asking media not to cover the incident.

The potentially adverse impact of reporting on, or giving coverage to, the arrest could only be assessed if the incident is correlated with other events that immediately preceded or were simultaneously happening i.e. if taken as series of related incidents. Because of flaws in the coordination with media, due to lack of a point person (if any was assigned), and the lack of crowd control measures in the vicinity, restraining media was either too late or impossible. At that point in time, was media in error in covering the incident? From the point of view of media, the answer is, no. It was undoubtedly a “news worthy” event transpiring right before them because, aside from Gregorio Mendoza being the brother of the Hostage Taker, Gregorio was officially a made a player in the negotiation process by no less than the authorities. Note that immediately preceding the incident, Gregorio Mendoza was made to accompany the Chief Negotiator, Col. Yebra, to present to the Hostage Taker the letter from the Ombudsman. From the point of view of media or a reporter, anything involving a key personality in the incident was “news worthy”.

It should also be noted that at that point in time, no one in the media knew what transpired during the latest contact of Col. Yebra, Maj. Salvador, and Gregorio Mendoza with the Hostage Taker and subsequently, at the Advance Command Post where the order to place Gregorio under custody was issued which information, if known to media, could have given “context” to coverage of Gregorio. Gregorio’s running to the media and his antics were a sudden and surprising development.

In contrast, the authorities knew or anticipated the possible repercussions if media knew of, and reported on, the arrest as demonstrated by the order to use the back door of the Advance Command Post as an exit of the police officers taking Gregorio into custody precisely “to avoid media”. To be fair, the authorities concerned were probably in a “catch 22” situation because it could be tactically wrong to give media a “heads-up” not to report on Gregorio’s arrest. This information, if given, might be leaked either intentionally, accidentally or inadvertently. But that was precisely why the authorities should have taken more stringent measures to shield Gregorio’s being arrested, from the media. Of note is the lack of crowd control measures instituted at a very critical area i.e the Advance Command Post at the site. By accounts of witnesses, anybody and everybody including media, was practically able to move about the said Advance Command Post. This constitutes lack of concern for security or confidentiality in or about a critical center for police operations.

The DZXL Interview of Mendoza by Michael Rogas

The “on air recording” and transcript of the exchange between the Hostage Taker and radio station DZXL anchorman, Michael Rogas, indicate that the contact by DZXL was established shortly before the letter from the Ombudsman was delivered to the Hostage Taker. This was confirmed by the testimony of Michael Rogas and Jake Maderazo. This continued up to the time the Hostage Taker started shooting the hostages and shortly thereafter (correlated in the chain of events, about the time that the assault by the SWAT took place).

Again, while there is no law that directly prohibits contact by journalists with a hostage taker while the crisis situation is on-going, the guidelines and ethical practices applicable to journalists provide, among others, that journalists should not, without authority from the Ground Commander (1) Be involved in the incident and/or (2) Act as hostage negotiator. There are ethical, practical and tactical considerations for these limitations.

Ethical Considerations

A journalist has the function of recording and reporting of events as they happen. Crisis situations should be reported without becoming part of the event being covered. When a journalist becomes part of the events, he loses his objectivity and potentially places himself in a position where he might have to make a moral judgment outside of his function as a journalist. This was the case of Michael Rogas and Erwin Tulfo because they became part of the events. During the time that the Hostage Taker was shouting that he will shoot the hostages and giving deadlines for the police to release his brother, Michael Rogas and Erwin Tulfo found themselves a “part of the events” that unfolded as they tried, in person (in the case of Tulfo) and on the air, to get police authorities to respond to the threats of the Hostage Taker. Tulfo was even cursing police authorities for apparently not giving their pleas attention. The involvement in the incident, other than in a detached and objective coverage, is a breach of the ethics of journalism.

Could not journalists make a judgment to get involved in the situation given the circumstances especially if it is to save lives? They could, but they cease being journalists at that point. By involving themselves, and making pleas for action by the authorities, they become advocates and lose their objectivity as journalists in the process. In this connection, acting as a hostage negotiator is also considered as involving oneself in the events being covered.

Practical and Tactical Considerations

The ethical rules of conduct that journalists are enjoined to observe in the coverage of crisis situations are also based on practical and tactical considerations related to efforts of duly constituted authorities to resolve the crisis situation. In the case of a journalist acting as a hostage negotiator, the basic practical consideration is that journalists are not trained as hostage negotiators. There are nuances of behavior and communication when negotiating with a hostage taker that journalists are not specially trained for or familiar with. Mistakes could result in the loss of lives, including that of the journalist. Assuming that the journalist is a trained hostage negotiator then, and with all the more reason, he should know that he could not engage the hostage taker without the authority of the on-scene ground commander.

The tactical consideration is that by engaging the hostage taker in an interview, discussion or any form of communication, the journalist could potentially derail the efforts of the officially designated Hostage Negotiator and/or the authorities in resolving the crisis situation. The hostage taker could become distracted. Gains in the negotiating process could be lost. In particular, the introduction of an alternative person to communicate with, other than the hostage negotiator, diminishes the dependence of the hostage taker on the hostage negotiator. This was the case in the incident under review.

The Hostage Taker was being interviewed by Michael Rogas at a time when a critical event was about to take place, which was the presentation to the Hostage Taker of the letter from the Ombudsman. The giving of the letter was supposed to be that point in time when the demand of the Hostage Taker is met or satisfied. But because the Hostage Taker was simultaneously being engaged by Michael Rogas, who insisted that the line of communication be kept open even while the Hostage Taker was talking to Col. Yebra, and even asked that the contents of the letter be read on the air, the Hostage Taker was clearly distracted and found an alternative means to voice his objections to the letter. The hostage negotiator “lost contact” with the Hostage Taker. Even the attempts of the hostage negotiator to save the situation by an offer of a solution and re-establish confidence appear not to have been understood or appreciated by the now distracted Hostage Taker. He was practically talking to two persons at the same time. It was also at this point that Gregorio Mendoza reported to the Hostage Taker that his (Gregorio’s) gun was not yet returned to him further enraging the Hostage Taker. But confidence and dependence having been lost, attempts by Col. Yebra to appease the hostage taker fell on ears that were engaged with Michael Rogas.

That the Hostage Taker had now an alternative avenue to vent his anger and frustration other than to the hostage negotiator aggravated the loss of confidence and dependence of the Hostage Taker on the hostage negotiator. This contributed to the hostage negotiator subsequently failing to re-establish effective contact with, and confidence of, the Hostage Taker.

The continuous engagement by Michael Rogas of the Hostage Taker in an “interview” during this critical moment (because confidence of the Hostage Taker was lost and the Hostage Taker had displayed hostility by firing his gun at the hostage negotiators) deprived the hostage negotiator of the opportunity to communicate with the Hostage Taker. The criticality of the situation was compounded when the incident involving the arrest of Gregorio Mendoza was taking place and seen by the Hostage Taker on television while still engaged with Michael Rogas. During this incident, Michael Rogas was repeatedly misleading the Hostage Taker into believing that by talking to him in his “live interview” over DZXL, the Hostage Taker was being heard by the police. Michael Rogas kept on claiming that because they were “live nationwide” the demands and/or pleas of the Hostage Taker were being heard by the authorities implying that it was not necessary for the Hostage Taker to contact the authorities.

In addition to the above, there are portions in the “interview” that border on giving or offering the Hostage Taker support.

The contact by Michael Rogas and/or DZXL of the Hostage Taker, his engagement in a continuing “interview”, and the manner by which this was undertaken, was a breach of the ethical guidelines governing journalists covering a hostage taking crisis situation, potentially endangered lives, and interfered and/or derailed the efforts of authorities to resolve the crisis.
 


Return to main page of IIRC First report

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Basis of authority and mandate of the IIRC

Summary of proceedings

Limitations of the report

Facts and sequence of events

Forensic findings

Critical incidents

Evaluation of CMC and police actions

Evaluation of media coverage

NOT INCLUDED ARE:

Conclusions on accountability

Recommendations

Highlights 

These parts of the report have not yet been made public by Malacañang, pending further review by the President's legal team (see statement above).

 

Click here to download file (PDF, 3 MB)