Voluntary Media Guidelines
Voluntary agreement for Volusia County reporters covering critical incidents
So as to not interfere with the peaceful resolution of a crisis situation, the news media should voluntarily restrict live coverage of law enforcement personnel involved in tactical operations prior to the resolution of the incident. This includes broadcasting live shots of tactical positions and sharpshooters, as well as pictures of hostage-takers or hostages. Pictures/shots are defined as any video or still photographs obtained from any source, including freelance videographers, stringers and citizens with home video cameras. To avoid tying up phone lines and complicating communication efforts with negotiators, the news media should also voluntarily refrain from contacting hostage-takers, by telephone or by any other means, during an ongoing crisis situation.
News helicopters will not be excluded from crisis situations unless their presence is having a negative impact on hostage negotiations or officer safety, affecting police communications or the aircraft itself is in danger. Pilots are requested to maintain a safe minimum distance of 1,000 feet elevation and 1 mile from the incident while covering these events. These distances are consistent with FAA regulations concerning temporary flight restrictions. Based on the specific threat presented, distances may be modified by law enforcement at the time of an incident.
Ground PerimetersThe Sheriff’s Office will set the ground perimeter for general media coverage as close to the incident as is safe. At a minimum, the media will be allowed as close to the active scene as members of the public are permitted, and closer if determined to be safe by the Sheriff’s Office and coordinated through the Public Information Officer.
Information DisseminationThe Sheriff’s Office will provide a Public Information Officer at a central location to provide timely information throughout an emergency incident. A media staging area will be established along the scene’s outer perimeter where reporters can obtain information updates without interfering in tactical operations. (PLEASE REFER TO CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS PLAN FOR ADDITIONAL DETAILS.)
The following guidelines for the coverage of ongoing crisis situations come directly from the Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation. A complete copy of their guidelines for news coverage can be obtained through their web site (http://www.rtdna.org) or by calling the Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation at (202)-659-6510.
In covering an ongoing crisis situation, journalists are advised to:
- Always assume that the hostage taker, gunman or terrorist has access to the reporting.
- Avoid describing with words or showing with still photography and video any information that could divulge the tactics or positions of SWAT team members.
- Fight the urge to become a player in any standoff, hostage situation or terrorist incident. Journalists should become personally involved only as a last resort and with the explicit approval of top news management and the consultation of trained hostage negotiators on the scene.
- Be forthright with viewers, listeners or readers about why certain information is being withheld if security reasons are involved.
- Seriously weigh the benefits to the public of what information might be given out versus what potential harm that information might cause. This is especially important in live reporting of an on-going situation.
- Strongly resist the temptation to telephone a gunman or hostage taker. Journalists generally are not trained in negotiation techniques and one wrong question or inappropriate word could jeopardize someone’s life. Furthermore, just calling in could tie up phone lines or otherwise complicate communication efforts of the negotiators.
- Notify authorities immediately if a hostage taker or terrorist calls the newsroom.
- Challenge any gut reaction to “go live” from the scene of a hostage-taking crisis, unless there are strong journalistic reasons for a live, on-the-scene report. Things can go wrong very quickly in a live report, endangering lives or damaging negotiations. Furthermore, ask if the value of a live, on-the-scene report is justifiable compared to the harm that could occur.
- Give no information, factual or speculative, about a hostage taker’s mental condition, state of mind or reasons for actions while a standoff is in progress. The value of such information to the audience is limited, and the possibility of such characterizations exacerbating an already dangerous situation are quite real.
- Give no analyses or comments on a hostage taker’s or terrorist’s demands. As bizarre or ridiculous (or even legitimate) as such demands may be, it’s important that negotiators take all demands seriously.
- Keep news helicopters out of the area where the standoff is happening, as their noise can create communication problems for negotiators and their presence could scare a gunman into taking deadly action.
- Do not report information obtained from police scanners. If law enforcement personnel and negotiators are compromised in their communications, their attempts to resolve a crisis are greatly complicated.
- Be cautious when interviewing hostages or released hostages while a crisis continues.