Is media coverage too free?


Although freedom of speech and personal expression are undoubtedly celebrated in the media by the wide range of topics covered, the recent execution of Japanese journalist and ISIS hostage Kenji Goto lead me to wonder whether certain topics should be covered?

The late Kenji Goto was a freelance video journalist who covered topics such as wars and conflicts, poverty, AIDS and child education around the world. Goto was captured by Islamic State militants only a day after entering Syria to try and rescue Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa, despite being warned not to.

ISIL released a video on Jan. 20 demanding $200 million from the Japanese government for the release of Goto and Yukawa. A few days later, another video was released with Goto holding a photo of the decapitated Yukawa and audio saying they would exchange Goto’s life for the return of Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, a suicide bomber. When ISIL realized the exchange would not happen, a video was released of Goto’s beheading.

In another story of a journalist being held hostage, a New York Times journalist, David Rohde, and two of his associates were kidnapped by the Taliban while in Afghanistan doing research for a book in November 2008. Their kidnappers were quick to make contact with many American news outlets including The New York Times. Their ransom: the release of Taliban prisoners being held in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay and millions of dollars. The men were held captive for seven months before Rohde and Ludin made an escape.

The difference between the stories of Goto and Rohde were how much the media covered their capture. The capture of Goto was widely publicized on international news outlets all the way down to local station across the world. On the other hand, when Rohde was captured, the media barely covered it.

That is not to say one life was more important than the other. Rhode’s capture was not widely publicized because The New York Times requested a media blackout of the abduction in order to maximize Rhode’s chances of survival.

This difference in story coverage could lead to the question of whether it is ethical for journalist to hide a story when it is their obligation to report timely events. I personally think the difference in coverage really just shows the balancing act and difficult choices the media must sometimes make: informing the public or potentially further endangering the life of someone.

Although each hostage case is different and many factors must be taken in account, it is hard not to wonder whether Goto’s story could have ended differently.