27 August 2010

On Buses and Censorship

So, earlier this week, a tragic event happened in Manila. A bus siege due to a hijacker ended up in a bunch of tourists from Hong Kong dead. Of course, this became an international fiasco between the Philippines and Hong Kong, with Hong Kong declaring a black travel warning against its citizens going to the Philippines.

So yes, there's the issue about how the media should have handled it. There are people who said that the media should not have provided a minute-by-minute broadcast of events, due to the fact that the hijacker actually had access to the media, by virtue of the bus having a TV inside. Thus, people say that the media's grave desire for getting a "scoop" actually provoked the hijacker and resulted in a bad ending.

There's also the issue of people taking photos of the bus afterward. You could see it here for example, as reported by Chinese media. Yes, I agree, that pictures like these, especially of policemen themselves, treating the crime site as some sort of tourist site and taking pictures of themselves in front of it. I agree that this can be insensitive at times.

However, I still believe that the media cannot be controlled, and that people, individuals, everyone, has the right to take photos of themselves in front of the crime site, if it pleases them so. Why?

I believe in freedom of the press. If we allow the media to be controlled for other purposes, then where do we draw the line? If we start controlling the media, it becomes propaganda, and a machine that would eventually allow a police state. Press freedom is beneficial, as it actually controls the psyche of the whole populace. Imagine if media is so controlled that the state actually has control over things that we read and hear about. Yes, I believe that the media coverage of this event perhaps had an effect to the mindset of the hijacker, but there should have been other ways of dealing with the situation, instead of controlling the media. That would be a very fine and delicate line to balance, something that I am not comfortable with.

Second, although I agree that it is insensitive and does not show concern for the families of the victims if one takes pictures of themselves in front of the crime site, I also believe that human nature is just plain selfish. We take pictures of things like these because deep inside we want to feel that we are more than who we really are. We want to document the fact that you have been part of something substantial and noteworthy, no matter how indirect it is. Why else would we take photos of ourselves in front of a glittering Maserati if we see one on the street? It's the same principle. And again, I do not want to restrict this, no matter how insensitive it may be. Because if we start policing people based on what is insensitive or not, then again we are tiptoeing on a fine line. This sounds similar to the debate in New York City as to whether it is appropriate or not to build an Islamic Center near the Ground Zero.

I value my civil liberties. I understand that some people may find it insensitive if others exercise their civil liberties. However, one cannot please everybody. I am pretty sure that with the current population of the world, every move we make will pretty much offend someone out there, no matter how hard we try not to. Thus, it is better to exercise tolerance. Because, even though it can be painful to see strangers treating a tragic site as mere trivia, we would not want our own personal movements hindered because someone else thinks it is offensive to them. Taking offense is subjective and not bound by reason. It would be wise not to base rules and regulations based on subjective views.

(The Village Below, from my Pisac Series)


  1. Hi LIW!

    Earlier, I attended a forum where there were speakers from the top media companies in the country, as well as the KBP. What's glaring in that forum was that they said that there weren't any guidelines set as to how media would cover the hostage-taking.

    Normally, the police ground commander is in charge, but in this case, nothing of the sort happened.

    Then the authorities are blaming media. There were some media lapses yes, but in the end, the authorities should be in charge.

  2. prabster,

    Hi! That's always the case isn't it? People trying to blame other people, trying to find a scapegoat. It's typical human behavior I suppose, but a sad one nonetheless.

    Just an aside, but I visited your blog, and I recall a semi-regular visitor back then with a nickname similar to yours, but unfortunately, I can't find his defunct blog. It wouldn't happen to be you, eh?

  3. I actually debated kung i de delete ko yung blog so I could start fresh, but I'm glad that I decided against it. Also, glad to see that you remember me. ;)

  4. prabster,

    Hehe, I have a good memory. Salamat din sa masusing pagsusubaybay sa blog ko!

  5. Tough one. I also believe in the freedom of the press, yet I despise voyeurism. But I think most of time, journalists are aware of their role.

  6. Zhu,

    It is indeed a very tough line. However, as someone pointed out to me, the media can also be thought of as a fourth branch of society, and people can also control it to benefit all. After all, at this point, we can kinda say that the media moguls control media and therefore influence the public in a rather not so desirable manner. There's a fine line to draw, and at this point, I still am ambiguous about it.