MANILA, Philippines — Philippine reporters may have interfered with a police operation when reporting on a bus hostage crisis that killed eight Hong Kong residents, a television journalist told an official inquiry Wednesday.
Reporter Erwin Tulfo, in telephone contact with a sacked Manila policeman shortly before the gunman shot his hostages, acknowledged the behaviour of the journalists who covered the crisis raised ethical questions.
"The problem is, we are all chasing ratings, exclusivity. My colleagues may not admit it, but that was the main thing, getting an exclusive report," said Tulfo, testifying at a high-level official inquiry.
Armed with an assault rifle and a pistol, sacked policeman Rolando Mendoza took the busload of tourists hostage on August 23 in a desperate bid to clear himself of extortion charges and get his old job back.
Eight of the tourists were killed and seven others were injured in the central Manila standoff.
Teresita See, a representative of the Chinese-Filipino community and a member of the inquiry board, told Tulfo he and the other reporters airing the standoff live on television or radio may have violated broadcast ethics.
See said the broadcasts that aired around the world may have tipped off the hostage-taker about the movements of the police unit that eventually stormed the bus, while Tulfo hogged a telephone line being used by police negotiators.
"You tied up the open line of the hostage-taker for almost one hour, at the most critical hour," See said.
As the police negotiator was trying to offer a compromise deal, Tulfo's Radio Mindanao Network was giving Mendoza a live platform as he made a verbal threat to kill the hostages that was later carried out, See said.
"He wanted to grandstand and you provided the arena for that," See added.
After initially defending his actions, Tulfo, the chief reporter for Manila-based Associated Broadcasting Co television and also a reporter for the Radio Mindanao Network, later said that in hindsight media should own up.
"Madam Teresita Ang See was right when she was saying that something's wrong with the media," Tulfo said.
"From my point of view there's a lot of things to be changed," he added.
Representatives of the radio station earlier told the inquiry on Tuesday that they had violated no law or broadcast ethics in their reportage of the standoff.
The inquiry, which was due to wind up later Wednesday, has uncovered a litany of mistakes by police and other officials assigned to handle the hostage crisis.
On Tuesday the Philippine government said the media has agreed to new restrictions on covering police operations -- including limits on live broadcasts.(Agence France Presse)