MANILA, Philippines - A trade union of journalists in Hong Kong opposed Friday a plan by President Benigno Aquino III to curtail press freedom in the Philippines after the bloody hostage crisis in Manila last Monday.
In a letter to President Aquino, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said it is "filled with anger and concern" with Aquino's statement that essentially made the media the scapegoat in Monday's bloody hostage drama.
The group noted that Aquino is using the flimsy excuse of media coverage of the tragedy to consider imposing new restrictions on media coverage should a similar crisis occur.
"We have no idea what further restrictions are under consideration but what we are sure of is that President Benigno Aquino’s words were uttered hastily and without careful consideration. Without a thorough investigation such conclusions cannot be taken seriously and the HKJA views the president’s hasty conclusions with grave misgivings," the group said.
It added: "The role of the media is to tell the world what is happening and what has happened. This is the essence of what the democratic world has come to know and to accept as freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The media’s presence is vital to the preservation of human rights of minorities in any conflict. As in the case of Manila’s killings, nobody can tell if the same tragedy would not have taken place without the presence of the media. What we can be sure of is that without the presence of the media no knowledge of this horrific tragedy would have been known to the outside world."
Various media groups have opposed House Bill 2737 filed by Cebu Rep. Luis Quisumbing and similar measures aimed at imposing a media blackout during crisis situations. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said it rejects any third-party rules on news coverage, such as the legislated restriction being pushed by a proposal in Congress.
In its letter, the Hong Kong Journalists' Association said the Philippine National Police should have known that the arrest of hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza's brother was being aired live, which would clearly irritate the hostage-taker.
It said the police clearly had "neither strategy nor the necessary know-how to deal with such a situation."
"With the development of the new media, it is unrealistic to ask the media not to broadcast live in a matter of huge public interest not only to the Filipinos themselves, but also to people in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Proper media arrangements, including a safe area for the media at the scene, in accordance with internationally accepted standards, are of paramount importance. None were forthcoming," the group said.
The group urged the Philippine government to refrain from using the hostage crisis to introduce harsh measures against the media "in order to cover up their incompetence."
"We will closely monitor the incident and any further deterioration of press freedom in the Philippines arising from this tragedy," it concluded.