Media restraint

TELEVISION excels at bringing breaking news events into the living room, particularly when they contain both drama and humanity, as did the 17-day ordeal of 39 hostages from TWA Flight 847. It is important for television, as well as radio and the print media, to cover all the news. But that should be done in a calmer, less intrusive, and more moderate fashion than was often the case in the just-ended hostage situation. Too often reports -- primarily on television but also in print -- were highly emotional and intrusive, or violations of good taste.

The media always ought to be careful not to become participants in the events they record. In the TWA incident that boundary was frequently transgressed. Several parties took advantage of the eagerness of the media, especially television, for any snippet of information.

Nabih Berri in particular used television skillfully as a negotiating tool. He had United States TV bring into American living rooms the faces and words of hostages often expressing the viewpoints of their captors who were holding them at gunpoint. Americans began to feel they knew the hostages as individuals: This exerted heavy pressure on President Reagan to emphasize getting the hostages back unharmed even at the possible cost to national policy.

A few television reports of movements by warships and a possible rescue team may have limited the Reagan administration's range of responses. Handing this knowledge to adversaries had the potential for seriously complicating an already difficult situation.

Some television stations, like a portion of the print media and radio stations, did produce consistently thoughtful and informative reports in good taste; included are Cable News Network and the Public Broadcasting System's ``MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.''

Others, however, ought to take a somber backward look at their coverage. No one wants government control: That would be a ``solution'' far worse than the current problem.

But for many stations and their officials, as well as for some newspapers, there is clearly a requirement to exert greater self-control, should a similar situation arise.

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