Journalists and kidnap: what happens to the freelances?

March 17, 2010

BBC journalist Alan Johnston said on his release after 114 days of captivity that he received a "psychological boost" from hearing messages of support from colleagues and well-wishers around the world on the radio he was allowed to listen to.

In contrast to the sustained public campaign for his freedom, the kidnap of Canadian freelance Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan received little publicity either in their home countries or around the world.

Held in Somalia for 15 months after they were siezed in August 2008, the pair and their families were reliant on their respective governments to negotiate their freedom.

But after 340 days without any progress, the families hired a private hostage negotiation group. Lindhout and Brennan were freed in November last year, reportedly after a ransom was paid.

With none of the political clout of a big news operation or its insurance back up, freelance journalists are uniquely vulnerable. As Sean Langan has pointed out, there are always people ready to criticise you for being there in the first place, but it is freelance journalists prepared to take risks who get stories that otherwise would go unreported.

The question of whether Lindhout and Brennan were wise to go to Somalia was raised during the time of their captivity. But should the questions of whether it was a good call to go to a danger spot affect how we respond to their plight? Is there more that the industry can do to support freelances who are kidnapped? 

We will be discussing this and more at an discussion on kidnap and the media at the Frontline Club on Thursday 25 March. Click here for more details and to book tickets.



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