On August 1st, a video that showed a Korean man kidnapped by Libyan local military was released. However, since Koreans did not know the fact that the man was kidnapped until the video was released, people wondered why this incident was reported so late. Reporting the case has been delayed due to the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an “embargo,” meaning suspension of coverage, to be enacted. On the main portal site on the morning of the August 2nd, the keyword “embargo” related to the Libyan kidnapping was steadily searched.
What is an embargo?
Embargo is originally an economic term that means stopping all trade with other countries. However, in terms of media, embargo means refraining from reporting an issue until a certain point in time. According to newspaper ethics practical guideline article 6, reporters should respect the reasonable press release period requested by sources unless there is a particular reason.
An embargo can be applied in various situations. First when a scientific study is going to be published, an embargo is used to give reporters time to organize the contents of the scientific study. That is, during the time when the embargo is legally effective, reporters can take time to understand the contents before they write about it. For example, “Science” magazine is usually distributed to reporters registered in AAAS (American Academy of Arts and Sciences) three or four days ahead of an offcial announcement to help them understand the contents. Second, reporting the appointment of a new ambassador in certain countries is prohibited before sending an agrément, which is the offcial approval of sending ambassador by the government. It is a diplomatic discourtesy to report before agrément arrives.
Embargo was put on the Libya kidnapping incident
Armed militia of Libya kidnapped one Korean citizen and three Filipinos on June 6. The militants broke into a local company camp, robbed goods and kidnapped employees. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked its press corps for an embargo and the press corps accepted the request. However, the embargo was broken because the news of the kidnapping leaked before the appointed date.
There are two reasons why the government asked the local press for an embargo. First, this kidnapping was directly related to the safety of victims. If the report goes out at a time when the incident is not known, it becomes harder to rescue victims and they could face dangerous situation. Second reporting can make it hard to negotiate with the kidnappers. When armed groups capture hostages, they have to negotiate the release, but if the news is released to the media, the militants will continue to raise the amount of money. The kidnappers might be able to increase their demands.
Supporters of the embargo in Libya kidnapping incident
What did people think about the embargo request regarding this kidnapping incident? Some people expressed positive opinions because the life of the kidnapped is more important than the people’s right to know. Lim Dong-young (Freshman, Department of Pre-medical Course) of Dankook University, said, “Above all, the life of the kidnapped person is very important. Embargo is necessary if it helps us save a kidnapping victim. The life of the kidnapped is more important than the people’s right to know.”
Also, reckless reports have a possibility to make the life of hostages dangerous. The kidnap of Kim Sun-il in 2004 is an example. Local media released a video showing Kim wailing ‘I want to live’ and the Iraq media quoted it. Then it was a huge shock to society and public opinion split over with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq which was the demand of the kidnappers. Under the cooperation of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, the government conducted a negotiation to release him through the Iraqi Embassy. However, the negotiation failed and the terrorists beheaded Kim Sun-il. The result was disastrous because the government could not put an embargo on the incident, so too many media were able to report the incident. It made people confused and led to a failure to negotiate with the kidnappers.
Opponents to the use of embargo in Libya kidnapping incident
On the other hand, several people showed negative opinions to the embargo. They contend that freedom of speech is violated. Freedom of press and publication is described in Article 21 of the Constitution: The media have freedom to report and the public have their right to comment on issues. Freedom of reporting could be infringed if it is prohibited to deliver certain issues to society by putting an embargo.
Opponents also think the government’s decision to the Libyan kidnapping incident was not the right judgment. They say that the use of the embargo should be limited to the incident related with rescuing operations and negotiations to ensure the right to know. Choi Jun-young (Freshman) of KAIST, said, “The fact of kidnapping is notified to the general public and then embargo was used in rescue operations or negotiations. I also think that stopping the report is an infringement of the right to know.”
In conclusion, in the Libyan case, the embargo request was made for the security of people and could be kept by the consent of journalists. The belated disclosure of the kidnapping brought about a lot of controversy. However, when too many controversies bring chaos, then it would cause unwanted result which reminds us the Kim Sun-il kidnap incident.
Chang Ji-hun email@example.com
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