Journalists and kidnap: the modern dangers of reporting from the frontline

March 16, 2010

“When you get it right you win awards. When you get it wrong people say you’re naive.” That’s how freelance journalist Sean Langan describes the dilemma facing journalists working in hostile conflict zones every day.

In a sense, just to be there reporting from a war zone is a risk – but if there were no people to take up that challenge, the only news the public would get from theatres of war would be the mundane, filtered propaganda pushed by military communications staff. You don’t need to be in Helmand province to get the MoD’s press releases.

But thankfully, a good many journlists still take those risks and next Thursday at the Frontline Club we celebrate them and also highlight the dangers they put themselves in. Our special event on Kidnap and the Media on Thursday 25th March brings together journalists, security experts and campaigners with direct experience of reporting on journalists’ kidnappings, negotiating on their behalf and even being taken hostage themselves.

Two years ago, Bafta-nominated documentary maker Sean Langan was held captive by Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan for three months while working for Channel 4. Speaking about his ordeal at the club last year, he said:

My first documentary in 1998 for the BBC was about five tourists who were kidnapped in Kashmir. I remember speaking to the families who were traumatised – ten years later to the day, I’m lying in a cell knowing that my family were going through the same trauma

You can also watch Langan’s interview with Channel 4 News’ Jon Snow, immediately after his release, here.

Also appearing at the event are International News Safety Institute director Rodney Pinder and Jonathan Baker, deputy head of newsgathering at BBC News, who was recently appointed head of the BBC College of Journalism and played a key role in securing the release of BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston.

Our moderator is Deborah Haynes, defence editor for The Times and previously the only British newspaper journalist to be permenently based in Baghdad. She has reported extensively on the many kidnappings in Baghdad.

Last week she interviewed 36-year-old IT consultant Peter Moore, who was held for more than two and half years by Shia extremists.

The intractable behin-the-scenes negotiations that took place too secure Moore’ release illustrate just how difficult such cases are. Haynes writes:

Mr Moore said that a British general and a second British official met (fellow detainee) Laith al-Khazali about 20 times while he was a prisoner. He acknowledged, however, that the British Government never had the power to secure his freedom, which was always contingent on the US military releasing prisoners…

Would a media blackout have help Moore’s case? What should media organisations do in future? We’ll be discussing this and much more on Thursday.

 

Book tickets for this event at this link.

 



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