Media and the Peninsula Hotel Siege

Minions of the Arroyo administration should stop efforts to justify the arrest of media people after another botched attempt by Sen. Antonio Trillanes and his allies to seize power. The act is indefensible. That planned dialogue with media leaders is the better move if the goal is to ease the tension blanketing government-media relation.

That does not mean media’s actuation during Trillanes, et al’s commandeering of thefailed coup Peninsula hotel in Makati City should not be put under scrutiny. I am referring to the decision of some media outlets to “embed” their reporters, photographers, cameramen, etc. with the “coup” leaders at a time when troops were readying an assault on the hotel.

Some veteran media personalities described what the superiors of those “embedded” media people as a “judgment call.” It was, but even judgment calls need to be assessed in term of their correctness to ensure that better “judgment calls” will be made when similar situations present themselves. Trillanes’ caper may not be the last.

The contradiction there is between ensuring the safety of media people as against the supposed right of the public to be informed (which, in the battle for ratings and circulations, is often a cover for “scooping” the competition). In coup situations, getting the correct balance is tricky. Sometimes news managers gamble, then hope for the best.

One media outlet aggressively defending its order for its people to stay put in the hotel is TV giant ABS-CBN. This is the same network that has been accused by Malacañang of bias in its coverage of previous coup tries, the reason why some government officials are floating the idea of connivance with Trillanes this time around.

Maria Ressa, head of ABS-CBN’s news and current affairs department, said the decision to stay was based on their reading of the situation. “In previous instances, the Oakwood mutiny, the 1989 coup,” she said, “deadlines passed without an assault and they (rebels holed up at the hotel) had very little arms to put up an effective resistance.”

If results were the sole judge of the correctness of that analysis, then the peaceful resolution of the conflict could acquit ABS-CBN executives. Still, I say the arguments for staying at the Peninsula, except for the “public right to be informed,” are faulty. You do not judge the outcome of present conflicts on previous ones but on actual situation.

The “rebels” may have “very little” firearms but these were firearms nevertheless. Not considered was the propensity of the police and the military to go on an overkill mode. In a volatile situation, a single spark can cause mayhem of regrettable proportion. And Ressa downplaying the effect of tear gas on the health of her people was pitiful.

Reporters, photographers, cameramen are also either husbands, wives or children aside from being media people—so I don’t really see the point of feeding them to danger when alternative modes could be had in ensuring that the public right to be informed would be protected. Do they need to be at Trillanes’ side all the time to be effective?

The advantage of being news executives is in their being away from the front lines. Some of them may have become veterans in covering war, but that does not give them the excuse to flaunt their supposed bravery when they were younger by putting their people in dangerous situations now. The act was not brave or selfless: it was unnecessary.

(I wrote this for my December 5, 2007 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu) 

6 Responses to Media and the Peninsula Hotel Siege

  1. Media in Manila these past few years have forgotten they are covering news not the shooting of a telenovela. That is why I hate watching national news these days. Makalagot!

  2. Omar says:

    I think the “public right to be informed” is abused by ABS-CBN and the other media outlets. I really dont think they had to be at the side of Trillanes when the seige was in progress. They can always wait until the police has done their job in flushing out Trillanes and get statements then. I dont really see the point of endangering the lives of their crew.

    I remember they reported the Trillanes went for a walk on the lobby of the hotel and went back up to the conference room.. should the public need to be informed of that?

    I know given the chance.. ABS-CBN would probably report that Trillanes went of the “little boys room” to relieve himself. They may even report that Trillanes is constipated or something.🙂

  3. john says:

    yes you are very correct it was unnecessary ? who give the the media the right to calculate the situation ? are they covering the news or also covering the police work ?

    right of the public to be informed ? we already know the intentions of these people , we don’t have to know it again and to inform us per seconds ..

    its a military operation not a media or television show . how about those media people that is taking PHOTOS of them selves waving their hands to the camera ? do we need to see them smiling their ? what is the benefits of taking photos inside and during a military operation ? was that the right tie take photos ?

    the General try to inform them to get out , what law that protects the media from the General’s command that they don’t hear him ?

    Such a shame media is much powerful and hardheaded than the rebels and the General . How come when the general get out and we saw media men cheering that the General get out ? DO you have to inform people that ?

    its too clear that they are having fun – cheering when the General get out and taking photos inside the hotel .

    i think its a SOP for police to arrest everyone on that scene since they don’t know who is just a reporter and a supporter .. and the police men knows that media men didnt listen to the General and we saw that they are cheering ..

    for media to know that is OUR GENERAL – if you dont pay respect to him and obey his voice then who else ? you media is giving a great bad influence to the eyes of the PeoPLE , the people were informed very well that the media or any person can just not listen or not follow our General .. what an information you just showed us.

    thanks for the information media – we don’t have to respect the General’s voice .. and we have the right to take photos on serious situations like this and complain later ..

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  5. Renato Pacifico says:

    Another conspicious display of arrogant dumbness by pekeng-peryodistas.

    They screamed COUP-DE-T’AT RAT TARAT TARAT!!! The international news wires ignored the pekeng-peryodistas. Anyways, they know that coup-coup-roo-coup-coup are seasonal in the Philippines by serial failed coup-de-ta’ters by FBI-Academy-Trained-PMA-graduates.

    The pekeng-peryodistas downgraded it to …. ta da … STANDOFF!!! after they were ignored!!! HA!HA!HA!

    Does anyone care to hear the sound of silence from pekeng-peryodistas on Glorietta Bombing and Ayala’s push for terrorist angle?

    I’ll tell that to you in another day … This one is also a glaring example that the pen is not mightier than the sword of Ayala!!!!

  6. I don’t mean to be too rude with this, and I know it’s completely unrelated but I’m just going to say it anyway! Whhhhhaat the heck has Obama been smoking these days? There, I got it off my chest!

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