Media coverage of a hostage situation
Case Study Issues in Mass Communication
September 9, 2018
The media has a monumental impact on the public and on the outcomes of hostage crisis situations. The media has the freedom of speech but the authorities also have a right and duty to control this type of situation in order to protect the hostages, reduce chaos, and inform the public by doing so in the correct way and with correct information that will help the cause, not hurt it.
Description of the Case
It is to be expected that each news station wanted the best angles for their viewers, the most information and to be top rated. It is journalist jobs to keep up to date and bring the most to the table, by any means. In August 2010, a man was holding tourists on a bus hostage in the Philippines. The media decided to broadcast this event and their findings live, doing so sparked heated criticism. The crisis led to the death of eight tourists and the hostage-taker, who happened to be a former police officer, Rolando Mendoza, who was fired last year after being charged with extortion and robbery. Three key issues came up in the debates; the disagreement between journalists and the public over how the situation should have been covered, the need for greater communication between journalists and the police during hostage situations, and the difference between how the Philippines and the U.S. have applied ethical guidelines to crisis situations.
Should the public be informed on all hostage-based disasters? Hostage taking media coverage undermines the government, can create chaos, and breaks relationships between the government and the people but the media and family has the right to freedom of speech.
When media covers a hostage situation, it creates sympathy and dialogue for the hostage-takers, as well as the hostages. By doing this, the takers then manipulate the situation by bringing into light their political agenda and strife. Leading the outcome in their favor of them being portrayed as the victims/heroes while the government is places in the peoples minds as the bad guys who allowed or pushed these men into a ‘desperate’ criminal act. At this point, everyone is watching their every move and no matter what the government does they are seen as weak. They must comply with the takers demands or the public will blame them for any harm done to their people. On the other hand though, if they do comply then they are judged for negotiating with ‘terrorists’ and this is all due to media coverage. Hostage-takers want to be heard and in most cases having it covered by the media to spread the news is just what they want in the first place and only puts everyone in a harder situation. It also has an effect on the hostage, with media coverage putting attention and force on the situation, family may come forward to make informational statements and/or offer rewards for their loved ones safe return. Doing so might increase the ‘value’ of a hostage, might put their family in danger, or complicate the situation. For example “Giving away too much information about the hostage can also help ‘copycats’ who claim to have the hostage and divert attention and resources away from the real case,” (Hostage US, 2016). Each country has its own way of journalism and culture and this changes how journalists operate across the world. “Ressa and others from ABS-CBN said that journalistic practices widely accepted in the U.S. are not as relevant halfway across the world,” (Tenore, 2010). Viewers would publicly blame the media for risking the lives of the hostages and giving Mendoza a chance to track police responses and grow increasingly more violent due to reports that were aired of his brother’s arrest. They also faulted the media for not following guidelines and for interviewing Mendoza during the crisis situation. The media had provoked Mendoza around the hostages. "Tony Velasquez, a senior news correspondent for ABS-CBN and an anchor for ANC, its English-language news channel, said the station considered the implications of its decision to broadcast the hostage situation live. He pointed out that the decision would have been easier to make if there had been better communication between police and journalists. ‘Most of our colleagues agree that our overriding goal of delivering information justified keeping the live broadcast on air,’ Velasquez said via e-mail. ‘But in retrospect, some have also acknowledged that the authorities could, and should, have put their foot down when the situation was getting critical, and directed that live coverage be cut before any provocative action against the hostage-taker would be taken,’” (Tenore, 2010). The media and police were not on the same page, which caused chaos. Family members were brought to the scene and allowed to speak freely to the media. The police later were forced to admit that the assault team that tried to rescue the hostages was inadequately trained as well. It was reported that an additional problem was "non-compliance to media relations procedures in hostage situations," (James, 2010). This has shown to be a major problem between authorities and media members, causing negative and unpredictable affects towards the situation and also on the public relationship and public view on authorities.
Key Decision Criteria
It is important to understand what will be covered, how it will be portrayed and who/how will this affect the situation. These three questions should play a role in every hostage situation because each crisis is different. Even though the hostage crisis has ended, the conversation about it however has just begun. This is where reassessing decisions come into play, like if the media should have reported live or not.
In efforts to help the authorities and media, President Benigno Aquino III has assigned government officials to meet with various media groups to set up parameters for covering future hostage situations. This should be put into place with all crisis situations regarding the media to help ensure a more effective progress throughout and a positive outcome.
Controlling the information is part of the authorities involvement when resolving a crisis like this one. Journalists are there to tell a story, authorities resolve the situation and if authorities are in control, they lay ground rules. That way, the journalist knows what they can touch upon and what to leave alone for the time being and the officers can then lead the focus in the direction that can help the hostages.
Action and Implementation Plan
Seeing that each country is different, there should be parameters set up for covering future hostage situations through various media groups. It should work well between countries, respecting their culture but also spreading the correct information in a way that helps the situation instead of driving it to become unstable.
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James, F. (2010, August 24). Philippine Police Show How To Not Handle Hostage Crises.
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Criticism, Debate. Retrieved September 9, 2018, from https://www.poynter.org/news/live-coverage-philippine-hostage-situation-sparks-criticism-debate