Does self-regulation have a future in the Philippines?

By the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

The media are not only failing to regulate themselves; more importantly, some media organizations are actually depending on the government to intervene, in effect eroding the very principle of self-regulation itself.

The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines, KBP) Standards Authority released recently a decision on the Aug. 23, 2010 hostage-taking incident, which included the imposition of fines on member-networks for violating the KBP Broadcast Code. Before it issued the decision, the KBP also revised Article 6 (Crime and Crisis Situations) of its Broadcast Code to help media organizations avoid making the same mistakes they made during the Aug. 23 hostage taking incident should something similar happen in the future. (See sidebar “Approved Amendments to Article 6, Crime and Crisis Situations, KBP Broadcast Code”.)

On that date, Rolando Mendoza, a former police officer, took hostage 25 tourists from Hong Kong and some Filipino staff who were in a tourist bus about to leave Manila’s Fort Santiago for the Luneta Park. The incident ended with nine individuals, including Mendoza, dead.

The press, particularly the broadcast media, has been at least partly blamed for the bloody outcome of the hostage taking. Their ethical and professional lapses during the 11-hour coverage made the situation worse (“Covering the Aug. 23 hostage taking: Media lapses invite state intervention”, PJR Reports, September-October 2010). The government, recognizing the existence of the self-regulatory mechanisms of the press, asked the KBP to investigate the media violations and to impose appropriate sanctions.

The result

The KBP Standards Authority December 2010 decision declared that:

“The Authority finds cause to hold the following respondents liable for first offenses (against) certain provisions of the Broadcast Code, as follows:

“On respondents Radio Mindanao Network (Radyo Mo Nationwide, RMN), Michael Rogas, and Erwin Tulfo, for having violated Sec. 1, Art. 6, Part I of the Broadcast Code (Coverage of crimes in progress), the following penalties are hereby imposed: The sum of Thirty Thousand Pesos (P30,000.00) and censure on respondent Radio Mindanao Network; the sum of Fifteen Thousand Pesos (P15,000.00) and reprimand on respondent Michael Rogas; and the sum of Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) and reprimand on respondent Erwin Tulfo, all in accordance with the offense classification and range of penalties provided in Art. 4.1, Part III of the Broadcast Code.

“We, however, find no cause to hold Jesus J. Maderazo of RMN liable under the Broadcast Code.

“On respondent ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, for having violated Sec. 4, Art. 6, Part I of the Broadcast Code (Schedule of Penalties for Grave Offenses) , the following penalties are hereby imposed The sum of Thirty Thousand Pesos (P30,000.00) and censure, in accordance with the offense classification and range of penalties provided in Art. 4.2, Part III of the Broadcast Code.

“On respondent Associated Broadcasting Company (TV5), for having violated Sec. 4, Art. 6, Part I of the Broadcast Code, the following penalties are hereby imposed: The sum of Thirty Thousand Pesos (P30,000.00) and censure, in accordance with the offense classification and range of penalties provided in Art. 4.2, Part III of the Broadcast Code.”

The penalties do not seem to be commensurate to the wrongdoing. Among its options, the KBP chose not to suspend Rogas and Tulfo for the major ethical offense of interviewing Mendoza during the most crucial stages of the crisis.

In the first place, however, the KBP decision, comparable to a mountain’s laboring to produce a mouse, had been almost a year in the making. In all that time, its Standards Authority simply decided not to include GMA Network Inc. (GMA-7) in its investigation because the network is not a KBP member.

Beyond ironic

And yet GMA-7 committed similarly egregious violations of the Broadcast Code as ABS-CBN 2 and TV5, among them that of reporting police and SWAT team movements in the afternoon of the 23rd. The KBP “solution” to this dilemma was to ask the government to get involved, in effect providing government a justification for media regulation in the name of self-regulation!

The KBP actually suggested that “the Office of the President, through the Office of the Executive Secretary, and with the assistance of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), support the KBP in establishing a system or mechanism by which the Broadcast Code is made to apply to all broadcast stations in the country, without exception, in the interest of promoting the principle of self-regulation (and accountability) in the country’s broadcast industry.”

The statement is beyond ironic. Media self-regulation means that media institutions themselves enforce ethical and professional standards among their members without intervention from the government or any other external agency. And yet here is one of the alleged mechanisms of self-regulation itself asking for government intervention—and in the name of self-regulation.

Although it does not have authority over non-members, there is nothing to stop KBP from reviewing and evaluating the performance of all broadcast media organizations.

ABS-CBN 2 paid the fine of P30,000 imposed on it for its lapses in the coverage of the Aug. 23 hostage taking, but neither agreed with, nor admitted any liability in connection with the KBP decision. On the other hand, TV5 appealed the decision, arguing that the police should have intervened in its coverage, again in effect arguing for government regulation by admitting its inability to itself decide, on the basis of media ethics and professional standards, how their reporters should have behaved. TV5 also argued that it was unfair that while it was being sanctioned, non-KBP members like GMA-7 “get away unscathed no matter what it does.” RMN similarly appealed the KBP decision, insisting that they had not violated any provisions of the broadcast code.

GMA-7’s withdrawal of membership from KBP has indeed prevented its being investigated by KBP and exempted it from whatever sanctions it may impose, in both the Aug. 23 hostage-taking incident as well as others. And yet the KBP could have looked into GMA-7’s coverage despite its non-membership, and cited it for the lapses in its coverage without imposing such sanctions as fining it the paltry sum of P30,000. Non-KBP membership, as TV5 correctly argued, should not be a license for any media organization to commit ethical and professional lapses that help make things worse rather than better during crisis situations.

KBP needs to review its mindset as far as non-KBP members are concerned. It needs to affirm that it has the option to evaluate GMA-7’s and other non-KBP members’ performance, if for no other reason than the fact that public interest requires it.

Of equal concern for KBP, however, should be the lesson it is imparting to both its members and non-members otherwise: If non-members can “get away unscathed”, as TV5 complains, what is to stop KBP members from taking the same path of resigning their membership as GMA-7, and eventually scuttling the entire self-regulatory imperative in Philippine broadcast media?


The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines, KBP) approved the following amendments in a general membership meeting on Oct. 20, 2010. The amendments, which are in bold face, are meant to address issues and concerns about media coverage raised in connection with the Aug. 23, 2010 hostage-taking incident.

Approved Amendments to Article 6, Crime and Crisis Situations, KBP Broadcast Code

Article 6. Crime and Crisis Situations

Section 1. The coverage of crimes in progress or crisis situations, such as hostage-taking or kidnapping, shall consider the safety and security of human lives above the right of the public to information. If it is necessary in avoiding injury or loss of life, the station should consider delaying its airing.

Section 2. The coverage of crime and crisis situations shall not provide vital information, or offer comfort or support to the perpetrator. Due to the danger posed to human life in such situations, it shall be assumed that the perpetrator has access to the broadcast of the station.

Section 3. While the incident is going on, the station shall desist from showing or reporting the strategies, plans, and tactics employed by the authorities to resolve the situation—including the positioning of forces, deployment of machine and equipment, or any other information that might jeopardize their operations or put lives in danger.

Section 4. The station or any of its personnel shall not communicate by any means, whether on-air or off-air, with the perpetrator or victim without coordinating with the officer in charge of the situation. If the perpetrator or the victim initiates communication with the station or the coverage crew, the officer-in-charge shall be immediately notified.

Section 5. Anchors, reporters, or other station personnel shall not act as negotiators or interfere in any way in negotiations conducted by the authorities. If asked to assist in the negotiations, they shall first notify station management and carefully weigh how their participation will affect their journalistic balance before getting involved.

Section 6. The station and its personnel are expected to comply with restrictions imposed by the authorities in the scene of the incident, such as space assignments for media; police perimeter lines; the use of television lights; the deployment of coverage vans, helicopters, and other vehicles; and the operation of transmitting and communication equipment.

Section 7. The legal injunction to preserve evidence in a crime scene should always be kept in mind. When the incident is resolved, the coverage crew shall follow the lead of the authorities in the preservation of evidence, taking care not to move, alter, or destroy anything that might be used as evidence.

Section 8. The station should always be aware of the following provision in their legislative franchise: “The President of the Philippines, in times of rebellion, public peril, calamity, emergency, disaster, or disturbance of peace and order may temporarily take over and operate the stations of the grantee, temporarily suspend the operation of any station in the interest of public safety, security, and public welfare, or to authorize the temporary use and operation thereof by any department of the government upon due compensation to the grantee for the use of the said stations during the period when they shall be so operated.”

Section 9. When interviewing family members and relatives, friends, or associates of the perpetrator, care shall be taken to avoid provoking the perpetrator, interfering with the negotiations, or hindering the peaceful resolution of the situation.

Section 10. The tone and demeanor of the coverage should not aggravate the situation. Anchors and reporters must always keep in mind that lives are in danger and could be placed at greater risk by the way they report.

Section 11. A coverage should avoid inflicting undue shock or [and] pain to families and loved ones of victims of crimes, crisis situations, or of disasters, accidents, and other tragedies (S)

Section 12. Unless there is justification for doing so, the identity of victims of crimes or crisis situations in progress of the names of fatalities shall not be announced until their next of kin have been notified, the situation resolved or their names have been released by the authorities. (S)

Section 13. Images that are gruesome, revolting, shocking, obscene, scandalous, or extremely disturbing or offensive, shall not be shown or described in graphic detail. When such images suddenly occur during a coverage, the station shall cut them off the air.

Section 14. Persons who are taken into custody by authorities as victims or for allegedly committing private crimes (such as indecency or lasciviousness), shall not be identified, directly or indirectly – unless a formal complaint has already been filed against them. They shall not be subjected to undue shame and humiliation, such as showing them in indecent or vulgar acts and poses. (S)

Section 15. Stations are encouraged to adopt standard operating procedures (SOP’s) consistent with this Code to govern the conduct of their news personnel during the coverage of crime and crisis situations. (A).