Beheading videos: Freedom of the press vs media blackout requests

From ISIS released video

WASHINGTON, September 3, 2014 —A second horrifying video has been released of a beheading of an American journalist.

The disturbing yet professionally produced video will provide additional clues for experts to use to gain information about the executioner now being called “Jihadi John” and his whereabouts.

At the end of the video, the terrorists revealed a British citizen on his knees and wearing an orange jumpsuit, raising concerns he will be the next victim of the extremists. The name of this man is not being revealed at the request of the captive’s family

It is believed that up to 20 western hostages are being held by ISIS including two American aid workers and at least three British citizens.

Among the 20 are Austin Tice, an American journalist from Texas who had served in the U.S. Marine Corp., Ishak Moctar, a reporter for Sky News Arabia who was captured with a coworker and driver although the driver has since been released, and Samir Kassab, a Lebanese citizen and cameraman for Sky News Arabia.

United States and British officials do not want some of the hostages names revealed because they believe that the reporting on the hostages provide enormous propaganda power to the terrorists.

However, critics believe the media blackout requests from the government and families are actually giving the jihadists power because they now control the information and can use it to gain attention with the drama of unveiling the names.

British officials have asked the media not to report on the number of British citizens being held by ISIS due to concern that additional coverage will increase the threat to their lives. Jamie Dettmer of The Daily Beast is one of the only reporters questioning the request asking, “How so? Does ISIS not know the number of hostages they have?”

In April 2013, four Italian journalist hostages were released from Syria. While announcing their release, Italy’s Foreign Minister thanked the media for respecting the blackout request made by RAI, the state television network who employed one of the journalists.

There is little known about the Italian hostage situation, such as who abducted the journalists, if the Italian government paid a ransom for their release or if a media blackout somehow benefited their release.

One of the arguments in favor of a media blackout is that if a ransom negotiation is in progress, the blackout could assist the negotiations. This argument does not apply to the United States and United Kingdom which do not negotiate or pay ransoms to terrorists.

In fact, it is official government policy of all western counties except for Spain to not pay ransom to for hostages.

It is also possible that additional rescue missions are in the works and there is fear that a detail that could interfere with the mission could be released by the media.

It has been revealed that last month there was an American rescue attempt to save Syrian hostages to include James Foley as well as the unnamed British man.

The mission failed to bring anyone to safety because the terrorists had moved before the U.S. forces arrival.

There are two Italian hostages being held in Syria without a blackout request. They are Vanessa Marzullo, 21 and Greta Ramelli, 20.

Marzullo and Ramelli are two of three aid workers employed by the International Committee of the Red Cross believed being held by ISIS.

The two young women’s names were released by their families when they felt the need to defend their loved ones traveling to Syria.

The Red Cross is not releasing any information “for the sake of their safety”. The three Red Cross workers are believed to have been among a group of seven who were initially taken together, four of whom were released shortly after the kidnapping.

For now, news outlets are trying to walk a line between the requests for silence and the public’s right to information.

Al Jazeera stated that out of respect for the hostages, they would not show the beheading video or the victims even in the orange jumpsuit.

The Boston Globe argues that there are times when it is necessary to not only hear about evil but to actually see it.

In response to the Boston Globe, the Toronto Sun disagreed saying, “The stark horror of these madmen can be conveyed in a simple sentence: black-hooded Islamic State militant slices off the head of an innocent American journalist. No image is necessary when your imagination can, unfortunately, conjure the rest.”

It is unknown if information blackouts help secure the safety of hostages, and at least in the case of the ISIS held British man, the request has come after his name was widely spread through the press and on social media.

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