Manila Bungle. Manila journalism hostage on live TV

bus killerMANILA - The 23 August 2010 Manila Bungle: Bus + jungle + mangled angle: It happened on a bus; the police came as if from the jungle, lacking something and a great many other; and the media showed the worst angle of the whole thing, showing ineptitude and decadence - on live TV. It was a bad day for Manila tourism; it was a bad day for Manila militarism; it was a bad day for Manila journalism; and it was a bad day for Philippine nationalism.

In Manila, police officer Rolando Mendoza got mad when he was dismissed from service and thereby lost his retirement benefits due next year yet; he got his gun, got himself a bus with tourists from Hongkong, and got the attention of the whole world - via live TV coverage, courtesy of Manila journalism.

And 9 people died on the spot, including the hijacker.
And the hopes of Miss Philippines to win the Miss Universe titled died.
And the Manila Police died.
And Manila journalism died.

The people who died on the bus cannot be resuscitated. Some people have to pay for those lives lost.

The hopes of Miss Philippines for the Miss Universe title cannot be resuscitated either. But we can learn a lesson or two from all this. The Manila Bungle happened at a crucial moment in the finals of the Miss Universe contest. The news and the noise heard around the world got on her nerves and she couldn’t respond in a smart way to the last question, to the crowning question: “What is one big mistake you’ve made and what did you do to make it right?” (For her exact response, see my essay, “Venus Falling, Charice Rising. Confronting your demons,” 25 August, American Chronicle). Venus Raj’s response was smart but it didn’t answer the question.

The Manila Police can resuscitated - all they have to do is get good modern equipment, get good training, and get someone good to crack a good whip on them. Being once Manila’s Finest is not good enough.

Manila journalism can be resuscitated - all they have to do is go back to Grade School and relearn their lessons on Good Manners and Right Conduct. But above all to go back to Journalism School to unlearn their dull, uninspiring, colorless, vapid, graceless, that is, their objective journalism that is vintage American at the turn of the 20th century. The Americans are not always bright.

I’m referring to 50% of Manila journalists on radio, TV, newspaper, magazine, and even online. Today, they are hostage to the kind of human-rights journalism that they believe is right. So:

They showed the hijacker with his M-16 on TV - to the obvious satisfaction of the hijacker. And on paper and online, to the satisfaction of unthinking readers; perhaps they were thinking that this was another instance to show that Filipinos are capable of live barbarism?

They showed on TV the police approaching the bus while the hijacker was watching on TV, video on board. Jolly good show!

They showed on TV the hijacker’s brother being arrested, and this angered the hijacker enough to start shooting. Then the police started shooting. Those were the Manila shots heard around the world and angered many. Truth to tell, the Filipinos must indeed be barbarians at the gate of civilization.

In modern parlance, this is all arising from the proper observance of human rights journalism.

It is the human right of a hijacker to air his grievances against his superiors.

It is the human right of a TV camera crew and the host of a TV to show and the announcer in a radio program to tell and the journalists of print to let the world read that the human right of a hijacker is being respected. The last is freedom of the press; the first is freedom of speech. To the Manila 50%, these are paramount freedoms.

They don’t realize that your freedom is defined by my freedom. My favorite quote in this regard comes from Dean Ricardo Pascual of the UP College of Law; he defined freedom like this: “You have the right to swing your arm short of my nose.” Freedom, how many crimes are committed in thy name!

The Manila 50% wouldn’t be so righteous if they practiced the age-old dictum: Discretion is the better part of valor.

Freedom of the press means you have a choice - why make yourself hostage to live drama when your duty is 1st to gather sensory data, 2nd is to collect your thoughts, 3rd is to synthesize, and 4th is to make the best out of the disgusting situation?

In other words, you are a journalist of the people, not of savagery; you are a reporter of news, not an agitator; you are a viewer of events, not an anger-monger; you are a thinking person, not an enraged individual - unless of course you are, and so what are you doing as a journalist?

There is another thing. Those Manila 50% are boring or can’t tell an interesting story, and so they resort to graphic presentations like showing or annotating a hostage crisis live to catch and keep the attention of their audience. They don’t realize that they are also catching and keeping the attention of the hijacker, and that’s exactly what he wants. News becomes the medium becomes the message of the one threatening the peace. This becomes human rights threatening the peace. This is freedom threatening freedom.

Herman Joseph Kraft, Executive Director of the Institute of Strategic and Development Studies, said (Macon Ramos-Araneta, 26 August, Manila Standard Today):

The Manila Police Department is supposed to be the largest in the Philippines, the best trained and best equipped. You could see how far below standard it falls.

The Manila journalists are supposed to be the largest in the Philippines, best trained and best equipped. I could see how far below standards the Manila 50% fall.

To help solve the problem of the Manila 50%, Philippine President Noynoy Aquino said, they needed “to come up with parameters” so that journalists do not get in the way of rescue operations in the future (Joyce Pangco Pañares, 26 August, Manila Standard Today). This is not the first time this happened; this is the first time government may do something positive about it. Journalists should be getting their stories by way of excellent behavior, not in the way of rescue.

You don’t have to have watched the live TV coverage - I certainly did not - to see how the journalism of the Manila 50% in those dark hours disturbed the peace not only in the Philippines but also importantly in Hongkong, so much so that “the Union of Catholic Asian News reported on Thursday that the news about Monday’s hostage-taking incident had left many Hong Kong residents distraught” (ANN, 26 August, Julitta Leung of the UCAN reported receiving calls from persons “seeking help due to sadness, anxiety, anger and even hatred.” This is not surprising, as they said “the scenes still linger in their minds.” So what advice did Leung give them? “Avoid watching or reading the media reports.” The live TV broadcast had “shocked many in Hong Kong, an affluent city unused to violent crime” (ANN, 27 August, It’s time to chuck the shock value!

The Manila police have “admitted to poor handling of the siege and several officers have been removed from duty” (ANN, 26 August, Hongkong’s leader had this to say (ANN, 24 August,

It is most regrettable. The way it was handled, particularly the outcomes, I find it disappointing.

“It’s a tragedy and a farce, “said Kevin Chan, a Hongkong resident. “Why did it take them so long to get into the bus? They’re not well disciplined and trained. Are they crazy?” 50% may be right.

And the Manila 50% journalists? They would say that their reporting wasn’t bad, and their advocates would defend to the death their right to say it.

If the Manila 50% can only come up with scenes that are graphic and tragic, they’re pathetic.

This is not the 1st time this happened. What ever happened to our schools of journalism? If the student has not learned, the teacher has not taught.

If the Manila 50% can’t be the best journalists they can be, it’s time to stop pretending they are journalists. Otherwise, it’s time for them to start serving the people and stop serving their voyeurism.

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