Covering hostage situations

Video surfaced this week from the Boko Haram group showing the schoolgirls they captured in Nigeria. The video included close-ups of the girls reciting from the Quran and answering questions from their captors, and wider shots of the group (some with an armed man in front of the girls).

While some other news organizations used the close-ups of the girls’ faces, we chose the wider shots. One is shown here.
Nigeria Kidnapped Girls
The images we selected convey the idea of the girls being held, without showing them in such detail that would identify specific children in this abusive situation. While he have given heavy coverage to this story overall, our practice on hostage images is to use the minimum necessary for news purposes while also making clear the hostages are being held under duress. We also limit to the essentials our quotations from hostage statements in such videos. We do not wish to be used for propaganda purposes.

This applies in all countries where we operate.

Sometimes the situation is not wholly clear. We’ve sometimes shown images of captured soldiers or police in fast-moving news situations. But in any case where captives are held for a significant period and are clearly in significant danger, we’re very careful with our images. And we keep our coverage of hostage statements to a minimum because we know that statements made under duress cannot be taken at face value.

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About Tom Kent

Deputy managing editor and standards editor of The Associated Press, responsible for accuracy and balance across all AP news services. Frequent contributor to forums and conferences on newsroom ethics and organization. Adjunct professor at the School of International Affairs and Journalism School of Columbia University. Former AP correspondent or bureau chief in Russia, Iran, Belgium, Australia and the United States. Graduate of Yale University. Languages: French, Russian, Spanish. @tjrkent