Self regulation vs. government intervention: CMFR holds RTD on crisis coverage guidelines
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) gathered news managers and reporters from several news organizations last Sept. 8 to discuss the media’s need to firmly adopt and implement internal and community-wide editorial and ethical guidelines, if again faced with crisis situations similar to the Aug. 23 hostage crisis.
Without a strong self-regulating mechanism, in wanting to discipline the media, the State could encroach on the press’ prerogative of self-regulation, CMFR executive director Melinda Quintos de Jesus said during the event.
The inquiry conducted by the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) revealed how the actions of some journalists—among them crossing the police-cordoned area, interviewing the hostage taker while negotiators were trying to call him, and going live even when the hostage-taker had access to TV—were critical to the hostage incident’s outcome. But the first IIRC report left the sanctioning of broadcast media practitioners and entities to the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines/KBP).
However, the Palace legal team recommended filing charges of reckless imprudence against Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) commentator Michael Rogas and TV5 correspondent Erwin Tulfo. In contrast, officials from the police and the Department of Interior and Local Government were cleared of any culpability, although the filing of administrative charges against Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim was supposedly being studied.
Announcing the Palace legal team’s recommendations, President Benigno Aquino III noted the media’s check-and-balance function, and pledged to continue championing press freedom. However, he described some media practitioners’ behavior in the hostage crisis as “irresponsible, bordering on the criminal” and warned that if such “unprofessional behavior” happened again, he “could be compelled to ask Congress for appropriate regulations.”
But even before Aquino’s warning, Cebu Rep. Gabriel Quisumbing had already filed HB 2737, which makes it unlawful for the media to report police and troop movements during crises such as a hostage taking incident. The 14th Congress also saw the introduction and near passage of bills restrictive of the media, such as the Right of Reply Bill and the Human Security Act. The August 23 “media lapses” also led to a Senate Committee in Public Information inquiry. There, Sen. Joker Arroyo warned the media not to tempt the Senate into passing laws regulating the broadcast media.
All of which CMFR had already predicted would happen if the media fail to regulate themselves. In a statement released Aug. 28, CMFR stressed the need for the media to resist government regulation, “journalism ethics being a matter of voluntary compliance.” This need prompted the Sept. 8 discussion. In the said roundtable discussion (RTD), CMFR prepared and distributed matrices of editorial and ethical guidelines in covering crisis situations by local and international media organizations.
During the RTD, the following points were emphasized:
• While existing guidelines do not prohibit live coverage, the media must weigh the risks of going live to ensure the safety of both their subjects and media workers.
• Media organizations should draft and adopt internal guidelines to ensure that live coverage does violate journalism ethics. A news manager may be assigned to ensure ethical compliance during coverage.
• Driven by competition, the race for ratings is the primary reason why there is limited or even no restraint in live coverage. The repercussions being evident with the incident’s outcome, competition should take second place during incidents that involve risks to human lives. Media organizations should agree on a set of limits in covering hostage-taking and similar incidents to reduce the pressure of going live and getting exclusives for the sake of the ratings.
• While guidelines are available and/or doable, enforcement by media organizations is another thing. Media, through individual and collective efforts, should be more rigorous in implementing ethical guidelines.
• The networks should resist the temptation to go live just because the technology to do so is available. Restraint in live coverage includes care in using the social media networks of news organizations, whose fast, unedited nature makes them prone to factual glitches.
• The KBP is encouraged to publicize its mechanisms of sanctioning practitioners and stations that commit ethical lapses, to remind them of the importance of adhering to professional and ethical standards and to show them that the KBP is serious about self-regulation.