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Don't blame media for hostage tragedy, says HKJA

(HKJA/IFEX) – 27 August 2010 – In an open letter, the HKJA urges Philippine President Benigno Aquino not to blame the media for its coverage of the hostage tragedy:

26th August 2010

Dear President Aquino,

The Hong Kong Journalists Association expresses its deepest condolences to the families of those who died in Manila's hostage tragedy. We also want to express our appreciation and respect to those who acted bravely and astutely during the long standoff, thus allowing some of the hostages to survive. We are, however, filled with anger and concern over the blame being heaped on the media for allegedly contributing to the tragedy.

The HKJA notes with concern that President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines made the media the scapegoat when he said: "Media coverage of his brother being taken into custody further agitated the hostage-taker…" Using this flimsy excuse, Mr. Aquino said he would consider imposing new restrictions on media coverage should a similar crisis occur.

We have no idea what further restrictions are under consideration but what we are sure of is that President Benigno Aquino's words were uttered hastily and without careful consideration. Without a thorough investigation such conclusions cannot be taken seriously and the HKJA views the president's hasty conclusions with grave misgivings.

The role of the media is to tell the world what is happening and what has happened. This is the essence of what the democratic world has come to know and to accept as freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The media's presence is vital to the preservation of human rights of minorities in any conflict. As in the case of Manila's killings, nobody can tell if the same tragedy would not have taken place without the presence of the media. What we can be sure of is that without the presence of the media no knowledge of this horrific tragedy would have been known to the outside world.

Moreover, the police force of the Philippines should have known that negotiations were going on between the gunman and his brother, and that this was being telecast. The act of arresting the brother would, clearly, irritate the gunman. Yet the police forcibly wrestled the brother down and handcuffed him, all directly in front of the media.

The police, clearly, had neither strategy nor the necessary know-how to deal with such a situation. With the development of the new media, it is unrealistic to ask the media not to broadcast live in a matter of huge public interest not only to the Filipinos themselves, but also to people in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Proper media arrangements, including a safe area for the media at the scene, in accordance with internationally accepted standards, are of paramount importance. None were forthcoming.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association calls on the Philippines government to refrain from using this incident to introduce harsh measures against the media in order to cover up their incompetence. We will closely monitor the incident and any further deterioration of press freedom in Philippines arising from this tragedy.

With Kind Regards,

Hong Kong Journalists Association

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
Case history


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