“[S]ome months ago, the family of Paul and Rachel Chandler sought what is known as a “super-injunction”, prohibiting the media from reporting any developments in their case,” writes BBC World News editor, Jon Williams on the BBC Editors’ Blog following the release of the kidnapped couple.
Lawyers for the family argued that speculation about their health, about any possible ransom and on the negotiations about their release might prolong their captivity. The injunction was designed to protect the safety of the Chandlers – and prevented us from referring even to its existence.
The BBC obeyed the High Court injunction, not wishing to put the Chandlers’ lives at risk, he says:
While we’re not in the business of censoring the news, no story is worth a life – we accepted the argument of the family, their lawyers and the judge that to do otherwise would jeopardise the safety of Paul and Rachel Chandler.
Some other news organisations did not – which is why, for some hours, during the Chandlers’ dangerous journey through Somalia to the safety of Kenya, the BBC stayed silent while pictures of the couple could be seen elsewhere.
While it wasn’t a comfortable position for us, or our audience, to be in, it was the law and a restriction put in place to try to ensure the safety of the Chandlers. Had we done otherwise, we would have been in contempt of court.
At its simplest, journalism is about telling people things they don’t know – so it’s always difficult for us not to report a story. But sometimes there are good reasons. There is no public interest in breaking the law, simply to claim a scoop.
So what of these ‘other news organisations’? Media blog FleetStreetBlues believes this comment was aimed at Sky News and described the piece as “a fairly pointed post on the BBC Editors’ blog – apparently aimed squarely at Sky News, who broke the story several hours before the BBC, a long lead, even by normal standards…”
But Sky News also has its own blog post on the matter, in which news reporter Mark Stone describes how the broadcaster obeyed the injunction until Sunday morning:
The reason it [the injunction] was sought, granted and adhered to by the media is simple.
A view was taken that to continue to show footage of them pleading for help and to publicise the fact that money (private, not government) was being raised sent a message to the pirates. It told them that hostage taking works: Britain was worried and willing to pay out in some form. The concern was that the pirates would simply ask for more and more.
Other insights and comments welcomed, below. I have previously reported the issue of the ‘media blackout’ here.