I UNDERSTAND where the call to impose a news blackout if a hostage crisis erupts is coming from. Media did contribute something to the sorry handling of Monday’s hostage-taking situation near the Quirino grandstand that caused the death of eight Chinese tourists and the hostage-taker, Rolando Mendoza.

But how the Manila media, especially the major TV networks, covered the incident did not differ from what they have always done in the past (more on that in another column).

Thus we go back to how authorities handled the hostage-taking situation and dealt with an overly aggressive media. From there we can learn from the experience.

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Bruce A. Wind, a member of the Seattle police’s hostage negotiation team, wrote an article in 1995 that was published in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s monthly magazine (source: lectlaw.com). It detailed how authorities should handle hostage crisis negotiations. Among its highlights:

--Basic police procedure dictates that any crisis incident be contained using both inner and outer perimeter established and maintained by the police. While the need to secure the inner perimeter is obvious, crisis incidents also require an emphasis on a well-controlled outer perimeter.

When arriving at the scene of a hostage-taking, negotiators often encounter a large crowd made up of bystanders, the press, and the subject’s family members. Individuals with potentially helpful information should be secured in an area where they can provide details to the intelligence negotiator.

Likewise, the press should be provided a designated gathering area away from the perimeter and be briefed regularly regarding the status of the negotiation process. The relationship need not be confrontational. During protracted incidents, supervisors should request the help of the (police) department’s media personnel to help deal with the press.

--Other points in the article applicable to the Quirino grandstand standoff: “personnel who are not trained negotiators should not negotiate”; “only in very rare circumstances” should outsiders be allowed to “speak directly” to the hostage-taker; “it is essential that the police control the phone lines” to and from the hostage-taker (help of phone firms may be needed); take away the hostage-taker’s ability to monitor the incident on TV or radio.

The article did not obviously include a guide on conducting an assault on a target, like a commandeered bus. But it already stresses my point: that the outcome of the hostage-taking incident would have been different had knowledge of at least the basics on handling such a crisis been followed.

(khanwens@yahoo.com/ my blog: cebuano.wordpress.com)