SANTIAGO – The head of the television council, Carolina Cuevas, has criticized broadcasters for their reporting on the disappearance and death of Tomás Bravo. Media coverage is seen as having added to the distress of the boy’s family. Unethical behavior is normal even for major players when low-income citizens are involved.
The disappearance of three-year-old Tomás Bravo on Feb. 17 was taken up quickly by news outlets. Coverage turned ugly has reporters descended on the boy’s distressed family and jumped to conclusions about the involvement of a great-uncle.
By Mar. 3, the television council had received 45 complaints about reporting on the case. Many complaints were related to sensationalism and “media lynching” of the great-uncle, Jorge Escobar. The complaints mentioned the biggest stations, among them public broadcaster TVN, and private channels Mega, Chilevisión, and Canal 13 (C13), the latter owned by the country’s richest oligarch, Andrónico Luksic.
After media reported the alleged involvement of Escobar, mobs approached his home, which he shares with Tomás’ mother. The mobs threw rocks and verbally abused the family.
The council’s president, Carolina Cuevas, said on Twitter, “we cannot turn others’ pain into a spectacle. Any victim deserves respect and dignity, and mass media must rise up to the challenge.”
La cobertura televisiva del caso Tomás Bravo nos lleva a reflexionar cuán lejos podemos llegar si somos presa del morbo. No podemos convertir el dolor ajeno en un ESPECTÁCULO. Toda víctima merece respeto y dignidad y los medios de comunicación deben estar a la altura #TomásBravo
— Carolina Cuevas (@carola_cuevasm) March 4, 2021
Following Escobar’s arrest after the boy’s body was found on Feb. 26, one complaint alludes to how a TV channel invited a psychoanalyst to discuss the profile of an alleged murderer, although authorities had not determined that Escobar was involved.
The Children’s Ombudsperson, Patty Muñoz, criticized the public prosecutor for revealing details of the case to the press. Journalist and former director of the prestigious investigative collective CIPER, Mónica González, also criticized the media’s behavior.
Morbo, medios en caída, credibilidad en baja, injusticia y luz verde para violar los DDHH. (1-2)
— Mr. Wolf (@Mister_Wolf_0) March 1, 2021
Children’s rights expert Francis Valverde told Radio UChile that “we all end up being investigators through the media and that is why this informative spectacle ultimately puts the child’s situation as the last priority.”
She added “we completely lose focus and a child’s loss becomes less important with everything that’s being discussed now about an accusation against a subject, who’s already been demonized, beyond whether he is guilty or not.”
Valverde also said that poor people are usually subjected to unethical reporting as they can’t control media narratives. This throws doubts on the mass media’s ethics.
Not the First Time
Media coverage of Tomás’ disappearance has reminded the public of similar cases where reporters and TV shows have gone too far. Sixteen-year-old Ámbar Cornejo was murdered by her mother’s partner, Hugo Bustamante, who had been convicted of two other murders.
In August 2020, a reporter of T13 morning show Bienvenidos entered Bustamante’s house on live TV pretending to be a forensic expert, while the program’s panel analyzed the situation and peddled sensationalist theories. This episode occurred before Cornejo’s body was found.
Fernanda Maciel was last seen in Santiago’s Conchalí district on Feb. 10, 2018. Her body was found 499 days later. During this time, the TV council was flooded with complaints about television shows focusing on Maciel’s private life, specifically news program 24 Horas of public broadcaster TVN. At peak hypocrisy, the program’s host pretended that publishing Maciel’s sensitive personal information was “not very easy.”
And Nabila Rifo was maimed by her partner in 2016. T13’s Bienvenidos then presented Rifo’s gynecological report – which, apart from containing highly personal information, was also part of the investigation into the crime.