MANILA, Philippines - It’s all about ratings for the news networks covering the Aug. 23 hostage crisis, according to a broadcast journalist.
Television Channel 5 chief correspondent Erwin Tulfo told the incident investigation and review committee (IIRC) yesterday the media did not observe ethical rules and standards during coverage.
“The problem here is, and I am also in the broadcast media – it’s the ratings,” he said.
“Some of our colleagues will not accept it but it’s true. That’s the bottom line there. The higher the ratings, the more commercials you get.”
Tulfo said broadcast media decided to show live footage during the 11-hour hostage crisis, considering that a television was fitted inside the tourist bus where dismissed police senior inspector Rolando Mendoza was holding a group of Hong Kong tourists.
The decision was prompted by the competition in getting exclusive stories, he added.
Tulfo was also grilled for his phone interview with Mendoza during the live broadcast of dzXL of Radyo Mo Nationwide, where he is also a reporter.
IIRC member Teresita Ang-See described Tulfo’s interview with Mendoza as an interference in the negotiations in violation of the Broadcast Code promulgated by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas.
However, Tulfo denied interfering with the actions of authorities.
Mendoza had other cell phones with him through which negotiators also contacted him, he added.
However, Tulfo said he was not aware that the line RMN used to interview Mendoza was the one police attempted to use in negotiating with the hostage taker.
His interview with Mendoza was “part of service,” he insisted.
Tulfo said it is normal for media men to meet people asking for help.
He was aware that Mendoza had given police a five-minute deadline to release his brother before he started shooting hostages, he added.
Tulfo said he called up the ground commander, then Manila police director Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay, twice on the phone but got no answer.
He also could not find chief negotiator Superintendent Orlando Yebra, who left the tactical operations center about 50 meters away from the tourist bus, he added.
Tulfo said he informed Senior Superintendent Nelson Yabut about the threat, but that the police official directed him to a certain Colonel Bernal who was the perimeter ground commander at the time.
Bernal “dilly-dallied” and went inside a communications van to talk to someone before Mendoza started shooting the hostages, he added.
Tulfo said he believed that Bernal did not take him seriously.
“He (Bernal) took his sweet time going into the bus,” he said. “It seems they don’t want to believe that [Mendoza] would do that.”
“They were very complacent because the hostage-taker was one of their own and he was cooperative.”
Bernal earlier testified that he was not properly informed about the hostage-taker’s demand because he thought Tulfo was still reporting on radio.
Tulfo recalled meeting Mendoza several times when he was still covering the Western Police District.
However, he did not know Mendoza personally, he added.
GMA 7 News reporter Susan Enriquez was also interviewed by the IIRC yesterday.
She was able to talk to the hostage-taker over the phone hours before the bloody end.
She was also seen interviewing the hostage-taker’s brother Senior Police Officer 2 Gregorio while police were arresting him.
Enriquez said she was able to talk with Mendoza when asked by Magtibay hours before the hostage crisis ended.
She agreed to talk to the hostage-taker after being told that he wanted to talk to her, she added.
Enriquez said police assured her that they would not bring her to the bus.
“I just allowed him to tell his story,” she said.
“I just listened. I felt at that time Captain Mendoza just wanted to tell a media practitioner (about his grievance regarding his case in the Ombudsman),” she said.
Enriquez said her dialogue with Mendoza, which lasted for about four to five minutes, was not aired or even used in her live reporting.
“It’s our policy (in GMA News) not to give air time to hostage takers,” she said.
“We can’t act as negotiators.”
Enriquez was also asked about her live coverage of the arrest of Gregorio, which, according to bus driver Alberto Lubang, pushed the hostage-taker to kill the hostages.
Enriquez said she was able to get near Gregorio because police did not stop her.
During Gregorio’s arrest, she was inside a TV network van, editing a report, she added.
Enriquez said her superiors told her to go to the police precinct under the Quirino Grandstand to cover what was going on.
“Sa akin po nung dumating ako, walang pumigil na mag-stay ako sa gilid, walang police officer na nag-limit sa akin na nagsabi (When I got there, nobody stopped me, nobody told me to stay on the side),” she said.
Enriquez said she was not aware that Mendoza was watching their live coverage of the incident on the TV inside the bus.
She exercised prior restraint by not crossing police lines located near the tourist bus, she added.
Enriquez said their network is still in the process of reviewing its policies on sensitive situations like hostage crises.
“There should be an area designated for the media,” she said.
“There should be a point person tasked to brief media. And responsible journalists should follow (rules).”
Eddu Punay, Philippine Star