Mellisa Fung: Afghan abduction

CBC journalist Mellissa Fung was abducted in Kabul, Afghanistan on October 12, 2008, almost two months before Robert Fowler. But the Canadian public wouldn’t hear a whisper of her ordeal until her release. Information surrounding Fung’s disappearance was subjected to a full and complete international media blackout.

Fung was stationed at the NATO military base in Kandahar in the fall of 2008, on her second assignment to Afghanistan. The day she was abducted, she was visiting a Kabul-area camp for internally displaced people to report on a story.

Within hours of Fung being captured, her friends at the primary media headquarters in Kabul were able to get in touch with every major media outlet around the world, ensuring all information regarding her circumstances remained under embargo.

Stephen Northfield of The Globe and Mail refers to this as a “competitive advantage.” In 2008, Kabul, Afghanistan was home base for high profile international journalists from around the globe. This made the process of arranging a media blackout far less complicated than if a civilian with no connections to the media had been the target of kidnappers on that fateful day.

Within hours of Fung being abducted, the CBC was on the phone with every major news organization around the world, ensuring that no information regarding her kidnapping ever made it into print or online.

Fung was released on November 8, 2008, and John Cruikshank, the CBC news publisher said at the time: “in the interest of Mellissa’s safety and that of other working journalists in the region, on the advice of security experts, we made the decision to ask media colleagues not to publish news of her abduction.”

But there is also no information regarding the details of her release or of the negotiations that may have resulted in her freedom. “We can’t discuss any demands or promises made to secure her release, except to say it is the policy of the CBC not to pay ransom, and we followed that policy to the letter,” Cruickshank said. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper assured the public no ransom had been paid.

The Mellissa Fung case sparked a debate both in and beyond the world of media on whether news organisations do more to protect their own, and when — if ever — media blackouts should be put in place.

Next: Do journalists kidnapped abroad receive different international treatment than tourists or even politicians?

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