in Media Ethics

Covering themselves: When news people become news makers (Part 1)

First of Three Parts

The hostage-taker, a dismissed policeman, was in a strategic location. He parked the bus in the middle of a wide street, assuring him of a 360-degree view should anyone attempt to come close and rescue the 25 people on board. Then, as night finally crept in, shots rang. “I shot two of the Chinese,” Mendoza told radio anchor Michael Rogas. “If they don’t change the situation, I will finish off even the small ones here.” Seconds later, the phone went dead. The hostage-taker was being interviewed live on radio—for more than an hour already—when he finally snapped and started shooting his hostages. The last straw was when the police arrested his brother, also a policeman who was supposed to help in the negotiations but later, police claimed, just further agitated Mendoza: The hostage-taker saw everything from a TV set inside the bus.

In the end, after eleven grueling hours, the police shot Mendoza dead. But the crisis also left eight Hong Kong tourists dead and an economically unstable country shocked, shattered and humiliated.

Facing international criticism and anger, the Philippine government created a task force to investigate what led to the botched handling of the August 23 hostage-taking. The 81-page report, publicly released on September 20, not only highlighted the lapses of government authorities but also talked about the liabilities of the broadcast media: The coverage, which the hostage-taker saw on TV, included interviews with his brother and other relatives, with the police and the other negotiators, and even footages of how authorities positioned themselves outside the bus. It is interesting to examine the coverage of four news websites, two ran by newspapers and two ran by television stations, of the committee hearings and the investigation report, focusing on what news becomes when news people themselves become news makers.

To be concluded…


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