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Journalists under scrutiny after Philippine bus standoff

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Botched Manila hostage crisis probed
  • At least one journalist, a public official and police officers may be charged
  • The botched rescue operation resulted in the deaths of eight tourists
  • Some journalists were able to interview the hostage-taker during the standoff
  • Some news outlets broadcast the event live, while the hostage-taker watched
  • Philippines
  • Hong Kong
  • China
  • World Politics

(CNN) -- Philippine media are getting a hard look as authorities investigate the fatally bungled rescue of tourists in a bus standoff last month.

At least one journalist, at least one public official and police officers are expected to be charged in the standoff, according to CNN affiliate ABS-CBN.

President Benigno Aquino on Friday received a report and recommendations from an investigative committee, but was not expected to act on it immediately.

The botched rescue operation on August 23 resulted in the deaths of eight tourists from Hong Kong and the hostage taker. Another tourist was critically wounded and six others were hospitalized with less serious injuries.

The standoff dragged on for 10 hours, during which some journalists were able to interview the hostage-taker. Some news outlets broadcast the event live.

The media later came under fire from authorities and the public, who accused them of endangering the hostages' lives and of hindering police operations. Authorities also were heavily criticized for not better containing the scene and accused of myriad other missteps.

Read an opinion piece on whether the media should be punished

The hostage-taker had TV access on the bus and was able to watch police operations unfold. He also watched his brother being arrested at the scene, which appeared to set him off and open fire.

Hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza was a former police officer who had been dismissed a year earlier for extortion. He wanted his case reconsidered.

In the aftermath of the bloodshed, Philippine journalists are weighing their role.

"There has been some soul-searching in the broadcast media as a result of the tragedy; at this point, the need to be more circumspect and to exercise the greatest degree of responsibility in reporting sensitive crimes, and deciding when to air unfolding events live, are some of the serious lessons learned from the hostage crisis. But at the same time, it should not be used by the government as an excuse to curtail media freedom," said Yasmin Arquiza, managing editor of GMANews.TV, one of the biggest television stations in the Philippines.

A reporter from GMA was able to reach the hostage-taker during the standoff, but the network didn't broadcast the interview during the standoff.

On Thursday, Philippine Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said that testimony from five victims matched that of the bus driver, who escaped. The victims and the driver said the hostage-taker shot his victims at close range, De Lima said.

But last week, she told reporters that there was a "big possibility" that some of the tourists had died in "friendly fire."

The death of the tourists created a furor in Hong Kong, where thousands of people protested in the aftermath of the botched rescue.

Hong Kong's government advised residents to avoid travel to the Philippines after the hostage crisis, casting doubt on Aquino's months-old government.

The president faces scrutiny as he deals with the aftermath of the standoff.

He will read the investigation report over the weekend, but is unlikely to act on it before a trip to the United States on Monday, a spokesman told ABS-CBN.