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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 April 2007, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Media unite to seek BBC man's release
Jeremy Bowen
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor, Ramallah

The one good thing that has come out of last four weeks since Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent, was kidnapped has been the way that his colleagues have rallied around the campaign to get him home.

Palestinian cameramen stand on a jeep with a poster of Alan Johnston
Palestinian media workers: Keeping Alan's name in the headlines
Palestinian journalists have been at the forefront, demonstrating against their own leaders, demanding that they do as much as they can for him, calling strikes during which they refused to cover official business.

Today (Thursday) I anchored a special programme from Ramallah on the occupied West Bank, to mark the month that has passed since he was taken by armed men from his car in Gaza city.

It was a unique broadcast, because it was the first time that four big global broadcasters - Sky, al-Jazeera, CNN and the BBC - have joined forces to produce the same programme.

In a competitive business, it is excellent that we can co-operate in the way we did today. The big shame about the special programme about Alan Johnston was that it was necessary at all.

Reporters as targets

We had to do it not just because of what has happened to Alan.

News teams all around the world face increasing danger.

Targeting journalists is an attack on free speech, because attacks and kidnaps put their colleagues off reporting what is happening

Covering the news has never been an easy or a particularly safe job. The kind of people who go into the news business like the challenges of working in difficult places - and believe strongly that it is worth taking risks to be a witness.

But in the last 15 years or so news has gone global - and some people are prepared to use force to control the news agenda.

More than ever, journalists who get in the way are not seen as observers, but as targets.

Most journalists who cover wars find it fairly easy to rationalise the risks that come from being a bystander in an inherently dangerous place.

But the danger of being wounded, killed or kidnapped specifically because someone wants them to stop doing their jobs brings with it a very special kind of dread.

Targeting journalists is an attack on free speech, because attacks and kidnaps put their colleagues off reporting what is happening.

Pressure

Since Alan was kidnapped, we have not been able to do justice to the Palestinian story in Gaza.

All news organisations realise that covering conflict means taking risks. But there is a limit to the risks that even the most enterprising reporters, producers and camera crews are prepared to take.

And when someone is taken, you have to use the tools you have available to get them back: access to the airwaves, and a huge international audience - so we thought we would use what we had for one of our own.

We did a special programme because we wanted to keep Alan's name in the headlines, and to put as much pressure as possible on the people who are holding him.

Let us hope that the message got through.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Ban Ki-moon appeals for Alan Johnston's release




SEE ALSO
UN chief urges release of BBC man
12 Apr 07 |  Middle East
BBC director general's statement
12 Apr 07 |  Middle East
Text: Family's letter to Alan Johnston
12 Apr 07 |  Middle East
Broadcasters in BBC reporter plea
11 Apr 07 |  Middle East
Timeline: Alan Johnston missing
10 Apr 07 |  Middle East
Gaza reporter missing four weeks
10 Apr 07 |  Middle East
Easter pleas for missing BBC man
08 Apr 07 |  Middle East
Palestinians discuss BBC reporter
08 Apr 07 |  Middle East

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