Radio & Television News Association

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reporters Are Increasingly Being Used as Bargaining Chips

How to Survive a Kidnapping
Reporters Are Increasingly Being Used as Bargaining Chips by Rebel Groups
By Laura Marquez

The two Fox journalists recently kidnapped in Gaza are just the latest in a growing campaign targeting journalists, according to the International News Safety Institute.

Since 2004, 41 journalists have been kidnapped. The institute is in the midst of a global inquiry to explain the upward spiral. But the organization's director, Rodney Pinder, said several reasons have already become clear. Chief among them, the world "has become increasingly polarized," said Pinder.

"Reporters are no longer seen as detached elements. It's a 'you're either with us or against us' mentality," Pinder said.

The seemingly random kidnappings of journalists have left many reporters wondering whether they could be next. Journalists are trained in how to avoid becoming targets of kidnappers. Almost all reporters attend some sort of safety training before heading to a war zone.

Among the tips the institute teaches in its intensive training seminars to foreign journalists and in the long list of tips it has published on its Web site are: Do not move alone in a conflict zone; use a safe and reliable driver; meet unfamiliar contacts in public places; tell your office or trusted colleagues your plans; and dress as an average citizen.

But even taking these cautionary steps is no guarantee.

When Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll went to a scheduled interview with a Sunni police officer, she wore a black hijab that hid her hair and Western clothes. She set up the meeting in an office in a neighborhood that was not on the "no go" list in Baghdad. She had even been to the office before. And she relied on both a translator and a longtime driver with the Monitor.

But when they left the office, they were blocked very quickly by a truck full of men pointing guns at them who then took Carroll. But it's what she did after the kidnapping that may have saved her life.

In a first person story for the Monitor, she talked about her attempt to connect with her captor.

"I was eager to make him like me and feel I was sympathetic to him, so much so that I began using more of my Arabic," she wrote. "He and the others marveled at how much of their language I seemed to have picked up in one day & I showed interest in learning.


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