Times reporter freed from captivity, news blackout lifted

New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell is the second Times journalist in the last year to be kidnapped in Afghanistan, and the company kept both kidnappings out of the media until the men were safe. Farrell was rescued by British Special Forces on Sept. 9.

Farrell’s interpreter, Afghan journalist Sultan M. Munadi, was killed during the rescue raid. Farrell’s report on the four-day ordeal, “The reporter’s account: 4 days with the Taliban” is on the Times blog At War.

According to a CBC report, the Times “kept the kidnapping quiet out of concern for the men’s safety, and other media outlets, including The Associated Press, followed suit at the Times‘ request.”

In June, Times reporter David Rohde escaped from a compound in Pakistan where he’d been held for more than seven months after being captured. Rohde was taken outside of Kabul, Afghanistan with Afghan reporter Tahir Ludin and their driver Asadullah Mangal. Both reporters escaped by climbing over a wall, but the driver did not escape with them.

The Nov. 10 kidnapping was also kept quiet by the Times and other media organizations, although the news did become somewhat known through a minor blog at the time.

In the April J-Source article “News blackouts ‘quite common,'” Rodney Pinder, director of the International News Safety Institute said these kinds of news blackouts happen “quite frequently.” He added that the practice is “fairly widespread. It usually involves international news organizations [that have] had reporters kidnapped in a foreign country.”

After CBC reporter Mellissa Fung was kidnapped in Afghanistan and released on Nov. 8, it was revealed that the CBC kept Fung’s situation a secret and asked other media to do the same.

J-Source columnist and journalism ethics expert Stephen J.A. Ward argued at the time:

“Journalists take ‘consequences’ into account every day of their working life. Journalists consider consequences when they report on abused children, on people considering suicide, and on families traumatized by tragedy. Journalists protect sources to avoid harmful consequences. News organizations report carefully on domestic kidnappings. Why should such an attitude not apply to foreign kidnappings?”

Paul Knox, chair of Ryerson University’s journalism school later took issue with Ward’s column. He noted that “the issues are much more complex than Ward suggests” and “editors aren’t actuaries or philosophers. They get paid to make judgment calls on news, not ethical constructs or calculations of risk.”

Media outlets chose to request news blackouts for their kidnapped employees in the cases of Mellissa Fung, David Rohde and most recently Stephen Farrell. But Canadian freelancer Amanda Lindhout and Australian freelance photographer Nigel Brennan were kidnapped in Somalia last August and did not have the backing of a major new organization. The news of their kidnapping was widely reported.

Both remain in captivity more than a year after they were taken.

The families released a statement through the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) requesting privacy and expressing “hope that the media will respect their wishes to be left alone during this particularly emotional time.”