Thursday, April 7, 2011

Irresponsible News Reporting Can Fumble Cases Under Investigation

Just a few hours ago, ABS-CBN reported that a man was found on the side of a hi-way (in the Laguna area), here in the Philippines, with a near-fatal gunshots to his head and body, and as he was left for dead by whoever did that to him.  Fortunately, the police saw him and brought him to a hospital.  As it turns out, he was working for a syndicate and was delivering drugs for them to their clients.  The victim decided that he doesn't want to be a part of it anymore and wanted to go to the police.  Somehow, his employers caught wind of his plan to divulge their operation, they killed him (or at least tried to...).  Now, police is guarding him in his hospital room to make sure that nobody tries to kill him while he's recovering from his wounds, because he's a  key to crack down on a major drug syndicate.  Although I couldn't find a link to the video that aired on tv, here's the link to the article:

My opinion...
The news had the victim's face all over it, they did not bother to hide his identity.  Now my problem with that is, I would think the syndicate, before this has been reported, had no any idea that their plan to "silence" this squealer was unsuccessful so it would have been better if they (the news team) have not even reported this, so that the syndicate members don't have time to flee the country, or change identities, change names, change houses, change their m.o.  Now, especially with the victim's face all over the news, they're certain that this guy was theirs (the syndicate's),  and their mistake is alive and talking on national TV!  This presents a real threat of compromising the investigation even before it started.

Looking back...
The very same thing happened in the Hong Kong tourist bus hostage incident (tagged as "Manila Hostage Crisis") where media was broadcasting live how the police were taking the hostage taker's brother into custody (or at least trying to...) and the bus where the hostage taker was in, had TV and access to news channels!  The hostage taker's frustration turned into anger when he saw his brother forcefully taken away by the police and minutes after that, we all know what happened. Shots were fired from inside the bus...  People died...  Police "tried to" storm in the bus...  Then, some really sorry politicians, policemen, and a very invisible head of state started pointing fingers or washing hands...

From the on-board TV, Mendoza witnessed live coverage of the arrest of his brother, he became agitated. Mendoza was thought to have fired warning shots as he saw his brother and son being hauled away by the police.[29] He demanded during a radio interview that the police release his brother, or else he would start executing hostages.
- Wiki 

And just last week, a former drug mule (a person who was paid to bring drugs into other countries) returned to the Philippines after serving his sentence on a foreign country.  He granted an interview as he divulged how the Philippines has become a drug trade center, as illegal drugs come in from Southern Africa, and gets prepared here for transport to other countries.  A few days after that interview aired on national TV, the former drug mule has now asked ABS-CBN to not show his face on air anymore because he has been receiving death threats since that interview.  Ok, I don't know if the news reporter asked if he wanted his face blurred out in the initial interview and he probably said "No.", or maybe the news reporter didn't even bother to offer that and just went on with the interview.  Of course, the person could have, on his own, asked for his face to be blurred out.  Well, at least they used an alias, "Japa", instead of his real name, but what use is that?

The video with his face (him wearing huge shades to hide his eyes...?) is still not blurred out and posted in this link:

Who's to blame?
Ok, so it's free media...  No holds barred?  Since the unfortunate Honk Kong tourist hostage taking incident, the management of all new channels or at least the members of the KBP (Kapisanan ng mga Broadcasters ng Pilipinas - Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines) said that they will be censoring their own coverage especially in sensitive issues or cases like the Manila Hostage Crisis.  The media, for me, is not at all the only party to blame...  There's also the police...  If the media can't help but report everything (without censor), then the police should step in and be the one to keep them at bay.  There are cases that need not be reported before the investigation is concluded.  If the police don't stop the media, then it will be a free-for-all media frenzy.  I blame the police or the authorities 60% and 20% blame for the media, and the rest of the 20% I throw out to all other factors.

In Summary
I have another related, yet totally different issue with news these days, which is about "exclusive" reports but that's another story.  With the issue of responsible or irresponsible news reporting, I hope people, in the news industry, realize (but I do think they know), that everything they put out in the news (whether on tv, radio or print) is received by millions of people in the Philippines, and with the help of technology or internet, gets audience from people around the world as well.  Now with that amazingly huge reach, comes amazingly huge responsibilities.  They should be aware of the consequences of how they format their reports.  I'm not saying they shouldn't report on these things, I just wish that they discipline themselves by editing responsibly (blurring out things that need to be blurred out, not divulging information that may be essential in a case, or proactively asking authorities or people concerned whether it's safe to report on the details).  I understand that the News is also business, so ratings are important, but, it shouldn't come at the expense of other people's safety, justice, and privacy.

On another note, as the larger piece of the pie, the authorities should be on top of these things.  Of course they want good news to be reported, for "pogi" points (also called "plus" points), but they would earn even more "pogi" points if they solve the case first and arrest the suspects before a press release.

Still, there are times that media and the police have both made a conscious effort to keep things under wraps, like the recent Agusan del Sur hostage incident, where there was 90% media blackout and now all hostages are accounted for (lessons learned from the Manila Hostage Crisis).  But lapse in censorship and responsibility, can cause other people's lives, so the good that people behind the news do even most of the times, cannot make up for the bad that they sometimes do.  It's like a situation where the best prison guard watches over the most notorious of criminals, but once he puts his guard down for a second, 1 gets away and goes on to kill 10 men.  The many years he has successfully performed his job cannot make-up for the 1 second he relaxes his guard, as a result, people lost their lives.  The rational thing to do is to relieve him of his duty.  Another example is   , "Hey we put 9 proven guilty men in the death sentence, so what's 1 innocent man in the death sentence compared to the 9...?" - I mean, really?  Do you have to ask?



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