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Not to be Forgotten: Amanda Lindhout’s Latest Plea

As the five month captivity of American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee finally ended today, due to the help of former US President Bill Clinton who traveled to North Korea late Monday August 3, 2009, thousands of supporters worlwide let out a collective sigh of relief. Yet, another desparate plea by another captured journalist went relatively unnoticed.

Canadian freelance reporter Amanda Lindhout has been detained for nearly a year by Somali rebels, along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan. Lindhout and Brennan’s captors have demanded a ransom of over $1 million dollars, but so far neither the Canadian nor the Australian government have made visible attempts to negotiate the two journalists’ release.

There has been a large outcry over the detention of several American reporters over the last few months, most notably Roxana Saberi who detained by Iran for 100 days before being freed in April, and Ling and Lee, mentioned above. Lawlessness in Somalia itself has been covered extensively since Somali pirates captured an American ship in April, 2009. Yet Lindhout and Brennan’s plight has barely been reported in mainstream media and a petition set up to demand their release has only amassed 1,780 signatures (compare to 88,249 for Ling and Lee or 10,669 for Saberi).

You can watch here to hear excerpts of Lindhout’s emotional call, in which she describes severe medical issues she is suffering from and where she describes why she fears for her life.

If You Were Captured Abroad Would You Want it Kept Secret?

Many were shocked when the news broke that New York Times reporter David Rohde escaped after seven months in captivity in Pakistan. The details of his escape–including broken limbs and Taliban bribes –were notable in themselves, but most surprising was that hardly anyone knew about the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist locked away with Pakistani terrorists. In all the news of Roxana Saberi, Ling and Lee, and sadly, many more, where was Rohde’s media blitz?

As the story unraveled that the New York Times orchestrated a media blackout, convincing other news outlets and even Wikipedia not to cover the story in the interest of Rohde’s safety, the heated debate over self-censorship in the press began. And the controversy continues even as Rohde returned to work yesterday, to “perhaps the most sustained ovation ever heard in the paper’s newsroom” according to The Times and “resounding applause” as The Times’ Tim O’Brian puts it on Twitter.

Bill Keller, Executive Editor of The Times said that it was after consultation with experts in kidnapping cases, government officials, and Rohde’s family that they decided that “going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages.”

CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour recently interviewed about the incident on WowOWow said although she would like to hear Rohde’s thoughts on the controversy, she would want the world to know if something similar happened to her. “If I’m kidnapped I want you, personally, to lead the charge and make sure people know about it,” Amanpour said interviewer Lesley Stahl.

When reporter Jill Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor was kidnapped in Iraq in 2006, the Monitor reports it was “criticized in some quarters for seeking a brief news blackout.” “That effort ended after about two days, with major news outlets saying they could not continue to sit on a significant story,” writes Monitor correspondent Dan Murphy. Carroll was eventually freed despite media attention, but for many (myself included) the highly publicized capture and eventual murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 remains heavy in our minds and the desire to avoid another such tragedy seems to be influencing the decision to self-censor.

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute and Matthew Ingram of the Nieman Journalism Lab both came out strongly against The Times’ media blackout, attracting much attention and criticism for questioning tactics that might have saved a man’s life. But there are two points that are hard to overlook. One is that Rohde escaped. He wasn’t rescued or released, he managed to evade his captors. And two is that even Rohde himself has hinted that his captors were merely looking for money, not political gain or to make an example of him.

As Ingram puts it, “the coverup has made things harder not just for future kidnapping victims such as Rohde, but for newspapers and other mainstream media outlets as a whole.”

It may seem counterintuitive to critique the handling of the situation now that Rohde is safely back on American soil, but if you were kidnapped abroad, would you want your story told or kept a secret?

Photo Credit: Tomas Munita for The New York Times