Rohde: media face tough choices in kidnap cases
Should the media have kept the capture of The New York Times journalist quiet during his seven months of captivity?
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“We have competing interests in these cases – we have the primary obligation of journalists to report in a timely, comprehensive manner on significant events,’’ says Bob Steele, an expert on ethics and journalism at the Poynter Institute. “But I also believe that we also have an obligation to minimize harm.”Skip to next paragraph
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He says there are no hard and fast rules for such situations – “I think that rules imply rigidity, and rigidity greatly diminishes good ethical decisionmaking.” Mr. Steele notes that it’s important to consider the specific case: who the kidnappers might be, what the special vulnerabilities of the captors might be – and to listen to the opinions of governments, businesses, and others who have a stake in the outcome.
“The trick is to make journalistic and ethical decisions in a fashion that is not unduly influenced by, say, pressure from terrorists, the self-interest we have in protecting one of our own, or the potential connections we have with government agencies,” he says.
As to a possible double standard, “I think that is a weak spot in the underbelly of the decision making in these cases. We show a preference for one of our own in journalism generally by holding back a story or elements of a story compared to how we might cover the kidnapped oil field worker or diplomat or tourist. In those cases, we might not bring as serious a deliberative process to how we’re going to cover it.”
This is the second time Rohde has been kidnapped in a war zone. While reporting in 1995 on the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and children at Srebrenica, during the Bosnian War, he was arrested and held by Bosnian Serbs for 10 days.
Clay Jones, the Monitor’s chief editorial writer and its foreign editor in 1995, says The New York Times had “consulted us, given our experience rescuing David after his 10-day capture in Bosnia – and we had extensive experience in dealing with the US government and his family.”
Mr. Jones described Rohde as “a classic foxhole reporter – you want him on your side. He obviously takes a lot of risks but he gets good stories… he’s a reporter’s reporter.”
The US government was involved in working to win the men’s release in this case, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meeting with members of the family, as well as Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who knew Rohde in Bosnia and helped secure his release when he was captured there.
At the time of the three men’s kidnapping, Rohde was finishing up reporting on a book project and was not on assignment for the Times. He married Kristen Mulvihill just two months before his capture. Ms. Mulvihill told the Times after she spoke with her husband that he and Ludin “just walked over the wall of the compound,” from where they made their way to a nearby Pakistani Frontier Corps base. On Saturday morning, they were flown to Bagram.
The Times said that no ransom was paid for the men’s release.
“The family is so grateful to everyone who has helped — The New York Times, the US government, all the others,” Ms. Mulvihill was quoted as saying by the Times. “Now we just hope to have a chance to reunite with him in peace.”
Rohde was to head to Dubai to meet his wife and family.
Mr. Mangal, the driver who is still being held, has two children, and Mr. Ludin is the sole provider for his large family of two wives, seven children, a sister, and his elderly parents. He was an English teacher before he moved to Kabul to start working with Western journalists, arranging numerous face-to-face meetings between journalists and the Taliban.
The New York Times paid a monthly salary to both men’s families during the captivity, according to Farouq Samim, an Afghan reporting assistant or “fixer” who was hired for a month-and-a-half by the New York Times to help Afghanistan Bureau Chief Carlotta Gall work for Rohde’s release.
“A journalist is someone who is on no side and a friend of everybody … and David and Taher were those kinds of journalists,” said Mr. Samim.
Ben Arnoldy contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.