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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Friday, May 06, 2005

Risky journalism

From today's newsletter:

"Fairfax's robust Iraq correspondent, Paul McGeough, is in the news again, this time playing a dicey game of diplomacy to try to free Australian hostage Douglas Wood. The results of his talks with various sheikhs are splashed over the front pages of The Smage (here), and McGeough has been all over the radio this morning. But Alexander Downer is not impressed. The foreign minister went on radio this morning warning that, in this case, too much publicity is bad publicity.

"I'd rather this kind of material wasn't covered too much in public," said Downer. And he answered questions about the government's efforts to free the hostage with a Downeresque flourish: "I'm not going into the names of the people we're talking to... Sheikh This, or Minister That."

"McGeough's efforts at international diplomacy and delicate hostage negotiation are not out of character. Readers will recall that McGeough made headlines last year, reporting that Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had personally executed prisoners – a sensational claim that remains unsubstantiated.

"This time we hope the well-connected McGeough (a former Herald editor whose partner is Fin Review power hackette Pam Williams) can bring home the bacon. But diplomacy is a tricky trade, and McGeogh shouldn't expect much help from Allawi."

The role of journalist as intermediary is ethically fraught. In this case, McGough appears to be establishing contacts with influential leaders that the Australian government would never know about (and makes you wonder what kind of contacts the Howard government truly has in the country, other than US officials or US proxies.) We wish nothing but success to McGeough and Douglas Wood, but somehow I suspect that behind the scenes the Australian government is furious with McGeough; his actions makes them seem utterly irrelevant to proceedings.


Anonymous wbb said...

What makes crikey believe he is acting as an intermediary? And if he is the only Australian to have talked to somebody who claims contact with the kidnappers does that mean he is necessarily playing diplomat? Should he refuse to meet with his source? And on what grounds? If he believes he is endangering the captive's life then he should desist from publishing but then I'd be asking the question of Farifax as they are in a better position to weigh that decision.

Of course that still leaves open whether he is endangering the man's life.

Saturday, May 07, 2005 12:20:00 am  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

It's a tough call. Is McGeough doing all this simply for publicity? Unlikely. He has the contacts, after working in Iraq for many years, and presumably reckons he has a decent chance of helping Douglas Wood. He may fail, but so may the government. And who says the Aussie government actually has any chance of recovering Wood? McGeough is a respected journalist, and one hopes, prays, that he knows what he's doing. In Iraq, I suspect, having many possible avenues open can only be a good thing.

Saturday, May 07, 2005 12:27:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any man brave enough to leave his woman to shack up with Margo Kingston is brave enough to face up to the terrorists!

Saturday, May 07, 2005 9:08:00 am  
Anonymous michael said...

Given McGeough's near death experience in Afghanistan due to the excessive trust he placed in the military professionalism of a bunch of Northern Alliance cowboys I personally wouldn't be too confident of his judgement on these things.

And, as the Crikey piece suggests, there are probably some pretty influential people in the Iraq puppet regime who would like to see McGeough with egg on his face too.

If I was going to get a journo to do the negotiating for me, give me Robert Fisk, Pepe Escobar or someone from Al Jazeera - not Paul McGeough.

But still, at least McGeough is probably trying to do the right thing. I don't believe the Aus government are. And with the hectoring, arrogant tone the messages from his family have taken ... well, with family like that, who needs enemies.

Saturday, May 07, 2005 11:03:00 am  
Anonymous wbb said...

Bizarre comment about his family, no?

Sunday, May 08, 2005 11:50:00 pm  

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