By Zach Dyer
Are media blackouts effective—or even ethical—when a journalist has been kidnapped? That’s the question Frank Smyth, a senior adviser for journalist security with the Committee to Protect Journalists, explored in a recent blog post on the organization’s website on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
Journalists have long been held by different actors around the world (including in Latin American countries like Colombia and Mexico) for ransoms, political reasons and attempts to influence coverage, Smyth said. Earlier this month, an armed group kidnapped five employees for the newspaper El Siglo del Torreón in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. After 10 hours, their captors released the employees, many beaten.
Opinions vary on the efficacy of requests not to report when a journalist are held captive. Smyth noted that some observers believe publicity complicates kidnapping situations, especially when there is a ransom.
Others challenged this argument. When Gawker’s John Cook broke a media blackout on the kidnapping of NBC News correspondent Richard Engle and his crew in Syria last December, he argued afterwards that the network did not convince him that reporting on the event would harm the captives.
Responding to the same case, journalist and author Robert Young Pelton slammed news organizations’ motivations for the blackouts, calling it "self-censorship" and a “bald-faced attempt to buy time, mitigate bad publicity, reduce financial impact, and hide corporations' incompetence in their ability to get their employees back," according to Gawker’s website.
Smyth ultimately struck a middle ground, saying that each case was unique, “The key tests are whether press coverage will work for or against the captive individuals (whether they are news personnel or not) and how the captives' interests are balanced against the public's right to information.”
Click here to read Smyth's full article.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.