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News Media Last Updated: Jan 17th, 2006 - 01:01:52

The news blackout on Jill Carroll�s abduction: Censorship or security?
By Eva Milan
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 17, 2006, 00:57

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It is amazing how this endless Iraq war keeps raising questions about journalistic ethics to which there are no clear or easy answers, much less public debate to attempt to determine the border between the people's right to know and the duty of the press to impose a blackout under awkward circumstances.

This time the controversy concerns the abduction in Baghdad of Christian Science Monitor stringer Jill Carroll. We media critics were ready to report the on the seemingly mysterious blackout on the story, when we happened to discover that there was nothing mysterious about it. No censorship by the media. Not in the mode we would expect, at least.

After days of silence about Jill Carroll�s abduction, we now hear that a news blackout was directly requested by the Christian Science Monitor, in order to protect the reporter�s life; a move that Time [1], breaking the silence, depicted as �unprecedented.�

CSMonitor Managing Editor Marshall Ingwerson said he was 'surprised and heartened' that most of the media had readily followed the appeal, censoring even the earliest reports. [2]

What is striking, however, is that very few US independent outlets and bloggers have questioned the widespread media blackout, and that no debate followed, not even in the most alternative circles. A Web search last week through �alternative� sites, those who usually pay more attention to such issues, left me with a discomforted feeling.

Except for the CSMonitor�s appeal, published also on the Committee to Protect Journalists�s web site [3], I didn�t see hide nor hair of anything about Jill Carroll on the Internet. When finally the first indications about what really happened showed up, my discomfort didn�t subside at all.

Jack Shafer is the first one to attempt to open a timid debate on the issue, posing some �easy� questions on �What information should reporters suppress? And for how long?�(4). Greg Mitchell of Editor&Publisher seems to be one of the very few to be concerned of the lack of debate on the issue. He reports that his readers are the ones to write him and pose the few questions around: �Is it right to organize any press blackout even for a good cause?,� �Who are they kidding -- there can be no such thing as a blackout in the era of the globe-spanning Web?�(5) . . .

If we look back at the mobilization organized by the italian newspaper Il Manifesto during the abduction of reporter Giuliana Sgrena, we cannot avoid suspecting that a decision such as the CSMonitor�s was due to �environmental� factors.

In the US, it is not the first time that news about American citizens abducted in Iraq was widely silenced. Certainly in the US we haven�t seen the massive mobilization of the civil society that occurred in Italy for our hostages. Also in Italy, during the abductions of several Italian citizens and journalists in Iraq, and generally during any domestic case of abduction, the press and the critics have posed questions on what is best for the security of the hostages. But a total media blackout over the abduction of one reporter in Iraq and with such modality, as Time says, seems something new that cannot evade close reflection, otherwise we�ll have to become suspicious of the reason the U.S. media went along with the news blackout.


(1)     The Abduction of Jill Carrollm, Time, Jan. 10, 2006 -

(2)     Paper 'Surprised and Heartened' Media Went Along with Blackout Request by Joe Strupp, Editor&Publisher, January 10, 2006 -

(3)     CPJ appeals for release of freelance journalist seized in Iraq

(4)     The Carroll Kidnapping, What information should reporters suppress? And for how long? by Jack Shafer, Slate, Jan. 10, 2006

(5)     What I Did During the Blackout by Greg Mitchell, Editor&Publisher, January 11, 2006

See Megachip for the original article in Italian.

Eva Milan is a media activist, media analyst and translator specializing in media and international politics. She also is a musician and songwriter.

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