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 the 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)