MANILA, Philippines - A member of an official panel investigating the August 23 hostage crisis said Wednesday a local radio station violated the Broadcast Code when its anchors interviewed the hostage-taker live during the crisis.
Teresita Ang-See, who represents the Chinese-Filipino community in the investigation, said radio station RMN-DZXL violated Article 6 of the 2007 Broadcast Code of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) when RMN anchors interviewed hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza during a crucial part of the crisis.
Section 1, Article 6 of the KBP Broadcast Code states that in covering crime and crisis situations, the coverage of crimes in progress or crisis situations such as hostage-taking or kidnapping shall not put lives in greater danger than what is already inherent in the situation."
"Such coverage should be restrained and care should be taken so as not to hinder or obstruct efforts of authorities to resolve the situation," the Code states.
Ang-See said RMN-DZXL clearly violated this rule when it called up Mendoza’s cell phone and interviewed him for almost an hour on air.
She said RMN-DZXL anchor Michael Rogas interfered with the negotiations when he talked to Mendoza even while a police negotiator was telling the hostage-taker that he would ask his superiors to give in to his demands.
“During the most critical time when (police negotiator) Orlando Yebra was trying to calm down Mendoza by offering to talk to the bosses and reinstate him, Rogas kept butting in and calling ‘Captain Mendoza! Captain Mendoza!’ He kept on butting in and diverting the focus of Mendoza so that probably he didn’t hear what Yebra was trying to offer to calm him down. Is that not interference at all?” she asked RMN anchor Erwin Tulfo.
Ang-See also blamed the radio station for inciting Mendoza to shoot the hostages after it gave the hostage-taker the arena to “grandstand” and make his demands on-air.
She noted that police had already turned down twice Tulfo’s request to interview the hostage-taker because they did not want Mendoza to have a venue to air his demands. Similar requests made by ABS-CBN News and GMA-7 were also turned down, she said.
“It is very strict in the protocol that no journalist should open communication lines with the hostage-taker…[Mendoza] wanted to grandstand before the media and let everybody hear him. He wanted to grandstand and you provided him the arena,” she said.
She added: “He was airing live that he would kill the hostages. If there was no one on the phone line, would he have done that? He had to follow through because he made the threat openly before the media. If he had no arena to air his threat – “babarilin ko na ito’ – and knowing that no one could hear him, don’t you think there would have been a chance that he wouldn’t have done it?”
Ang-See said she was particularly incensed that Rogas kept asking Mendoza what he planned to do with the hostages inside the bus.
“His line of questioning made Mendoza verbalize what he wanted to do…It reflects very, very badly on the whole practice of journalism that you violated your own KBP guidelines,” she said.
Tulfo blames cops
For his part, Tulfo said the hostage-taker was already resigned to kill the hostages after seeing his brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, being taken away by the police.
He also denied interfering in the negotiations since the hostage-taker had more than one phone with him inside the hijacked bus.
Tulfo said he tried to help the police when Mendoza threatened to kill the hostages inside the bus if his brother was not freed. He said he called up Manila Police District (MPD) chief Rodolfo Magtibay twice on the phone but he did not answer.
He said he could not find chief negotiator Yebra after he left the tactical operations center just 30-50 meters away from the hijacked bus. Yebra had earlier testified that he went to the command post to phone his superiors to give in to the hostage-taker’s demand that he be reinstated in the police force.
“If he was there at the desk 30 meters away, he could have ran towards the bus and tell Mendoza: ‘Wait, I am the negotiator. I can make the arrest stop,’” he said.
Tulfo said he informed Senior Superintendent Nelson Yabut about the threat, who then directed him to a certain Colonel Bernal who was the ground commander at that time.
He said Bernal “dilly-dallied” by going inside a communications van to talk to someone, and that shots were fired right after. Bernal, however, earlier testified that he was not properly informed about the hostage-taker’s demand because he thought Tulfo was still reporting on radio.
Tulfo said the police did not take him seriously that Mendoza would start killing his hostages.
“I was not taken seriously. They just dilly-dallied. [Bernal] took his sweet time going into the bus. Parang they don't want to believe that [the hostage-taker] would do that… They were very complacent because the hostage-taker was one of their own and he was cooperative,” said.
Tulfo said he had met the hostage-taker several times before during his time as a police beat reporter covering the MPD. He said that he did not know Mendoza personally.
He also said he did not know anything about rumors that Mendoza was one of the arresting officers in the drug bust of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim’s son several years back.
Tulfo also backed Ang-See’s statement that media made several lapses while covering the 12-hour hostage drama.
He said the ratings war and the desire to get exclusive video and interviews could have factored in on the decisions of local news organizations to broadcast the event live.
“Yes, in some aspect the media did not do its job. If she's talking about ethics and rules, the problem here is, and I am also in the broadcast media, it's the ratings. Some of our colleagues will not accept it but it’s true,” he said.
“That's the bottomline there. The higher the ratings, the more commercials you get. There's also the service part because people go to you to ask for help. This is beyond my reach. This is top management's call…,” he added.