Blame game?

October 4, 2010 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment

N.B. – This article was first published on UPIU,  August 31, 2010. This article was subjected to a class workshop for my Journalism 117 (Online Journalism). Comments for revision on this article includes providing the name of organization mentioned, a clearer backgrounder to the story being commented on and editing some long, descriptive words to shorter, clearer ones.

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By Paul Belisario

While a grieving dismissed police officer staged an 11-hour hostage drama on August 23 which concluded in the death of eight Hong Kong Chinese tourists including the hostage taker himself, Filipinos were held captive by their TV sets by the media’s blow-by-blow coverage of the crisis.

After the stand-off, which some described as similar to an action movie, blame immediately started firing out. Some fingers pointed to the police’s incompetent plans, some to the government’s slow action, but it seems that more fingers are directed to the media.

Questions of professional ethics were raised. A lot proposes that the authority should have acted with an iron fist to limit media coverage. A media blackout could have minimized the harm, some said. Some covering media persons even claim that if the police have ordered them out of the scene, they would have obeyed at once.

‘Future journalists’ views
Sentiments about the alleged faults of the media seem to ripple in sync through the academe, but perspectives on how to resolve the short-comings of the media seems to diffuse.

In one of the educational deiscussion of the University if the Philippines Journalism Club (UP JC), a student organization where I and most of journalism and mass media students belong, put a light on the ethical issues of the incident. Some members started to narrate observations of the coverage from different TV and radio stations. We more or less come up with the same conclusion: it was the similar style of reporting after all – milking the situation more than its worth and the evident cut-throat competition for ‘exclusives’ and ratings. More than that, media have crossed the line from its duty to report in aid of shaping public opinion to mere sensationalizing the event. And all heads seem to nod.

For the most of our discussion, some could not help but just laugh on the colossal shortcomings of the police’s actions (ie. trying to break the bus’ window with a sledge and just ending up dropping it inside). Also, because it was a real-time coverage, reporters and anchors have their share of spoof-able and could-have-been-edited-out moments. All these were aired by local and international media. Unfortunately, it transformed from information to entertainment.

But no one was laughing when asked, “Who’s going to correct the media of its flaws?”

Who’s regulating?
In unison the org members seems to agree – that the practiced guidelines and rules for journalists when covering a hostage-taking crisis must be of highest consideration.

But arguments clashes when theory and actual practice seems to skew. Organization members utter uncontainable frustrations from the repeated attitude of the majority of media outfits towards these life and death situations most of the times. Ideally, things should end well if all media practitioners were devotees of the proper internal restraint and control guided by these ethical rules. But in reality, when the situation is at one’s face and most are squabbling for ‘exclusives’ and drunk under the influence of ‘getting a scoop’, all rules and codes vaporize.

Additional dissatisfaction is addressed by one of my co-member about the ‘lagging move’ and ‘indecisive steps’ on the side of the national government in ‘dealing’ with the media. And the same idea was supported by another one of my org mate with a tone which implies that the authorities have the power to put a limitation to the coverage when the media seems lacking.

My questions were outright, “How about press freedom?”

False parallelism
Coming from a historical context, it is a nightmare for me just to imagine giving the police, the government or any of the powers that be the control to mute and turn off the flow of information.

Thus, propositions that government control the media seems to show the frustration to the flaws of the majority of media on crisis reporting. In addition, a swift reprimand due to the lost of lives is an automatic demand from everybody.

But to think that the media could be like the police, that after a major blunder, who will possibly be demoted, suspended, dismissed or sanctioned with disciplinary actions by his commander or by the government is a fallacy and very dangerous. The present administration, following the chain of command must be answerable to evident disarray in the police.

The media will not walk away untainted, however. The power to inform, the ability to sway public opinion and to move people them to action are powers mightier than any gun. Just like our college’s statement, “media should use the time to reflect” and “free itself from the ignorance of ethical practice because they will end up doing a disservice to the victims and the public.”

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