PRAVDA.Ru recently reported on the role of the domestic mass media and Russian Ministry for Press in the hostage drama in the Moscow theatre.
Some time later, the Ministry for Press admitted that the Chechen terrorists had a thoroughly developed media plan; they were wonderfully prepared from the point of view of knowing the Russian mass media, journalists, and news-makers. The terrorists used the situation to its maximum advantage; they wanted to destabilize the situation in the society through mass media. At that, the Russian Ministry for Press strongly believes that they didn’t let the terrorists involve themselves in that game. On the whole, Russian Minister for Press Mikhail Lesin gave a positive opinion of the role of mass media during the hostage release operation.
Russian Duma deputies, however, were more critical concerning the role of the mass media in the operation. Last Friday, the Lower House of the Russian parliament gave the third, final reading to amendments to the legislation in force that restricts the activity of the mass media during coverage of anti-terrorist operations. It’s currently prohibited to publish “any information that harms anti-terrorist operations and poses danger to people’s lives and health.” It is prohibited to publish statements of people who hamper anti-terrorist operations, to reveal personal information about soldiers, members of operative headquarters for realization of special operations, and so on.
Today, the Russian Ministry for Press issued its own recommendations. The ministerial press-service informs that the recommendations are to published under the title “Methodic recommendations on covering of emergency situations and cases of danger to people’s life.” The recommendations are based on legislation in force and upon international experience; they should be soon considered at a session of the Mass Media Industrial Committee together with the top officials from the Ministry for Press.
The top priority of the recommendations is “saving people is more important than the right of the society for information.” This means that the mass media must avoid detailed descriptions of what rescue services and special troops do during the operation; this is to be done not to hamper special operations.
Here are some extracts from the recommendations for the mass media.
“Journalists mustn’t conduct interviews with terrorists only on their personal initiative; no live TV or radio programs can be allowed to terrorists without pre-consultations with law enforcement authorities. Journalists must remember that terrorists can use such live programs to transmit prearranged signals to their accomplices in other places; journalists must always be ready to stop live broadcasting from the accident site, never comment or analyze the claims made by terrorists in a dilettantish manner, without professional consultations; journalists must always keep in mind that hostages held by terrorists are at the same time hostages of the situation and people at the same time are turned into an instrument of influence upon the state and the public opinion.”
The Mass media are recommended not to seek classified information of secret services engaged in special operations. “Journalists can unintentionally blurt out something, which in its turn may frustrate the whole operation, result in the deaths of hostages, and even those who carry out rescue operations.”
It is said that journalists must always remember their duty to inform people about events, not spread panic. The mass media should not only mind what they say, but also how they say it. Covering emergency situations, journalists mustn’t hamper the work of law enforcement, medical, and other services engaged in the rescue of people. Journalists must refer only to reliable sources of information and be more sensitive to the feelings of relatives and friend of the victims of terrorism. The mass media are recommended to avoid excessive featuring and naturalism. They mustn’t assume a mediator’s role. If journalists happen to be among the negotiators they should avoid any personal publications until the crisis is settled.
Journalists are also strongly recommended to warn the official powers of any plans for the organization or development of terrorist acts that they happen to learn of, even in those cases when such terrorist acts seem unfeasible.
Earlier, Russian Minister for Press Mikhail Lesin said in an interview to journalists that the mass media should “independently develop a code of conduct in emergency situations.”