The amount of media attention a kidnapping receives is different in each case. Some cases do not receive media coverage at all, while others do. It will depend on the nature of the kidnapping, who has been taken, the amount of publicity put out by the kidnappers and whether your family or employer decided to go to the media or not during the incident. The media can learn about kidnap incidents from a range of sources, including family members, your employer, government statements and locals who may have witnessed or gained information about the incident.
Engaging with the media
You should always think carefully before engaging with the media.
In most cases, you will be advised not to publicise the kidnapping in the media. Potential pitfalls of publicity include:
- Giving the kidnapping group undeserving publicity;
- Increasing the risks to other hostages;
- Attracting attention from unscrupulous individuals who might hijack the story for their own purposes;
- Spurring social media trolls to bully you or your relatives; and
- Encouraging other media outlets to ask you to comment.
If the story is already in the news, you might want to give a statement or the authorities may encourage you to do so (and they will often help you to write it). There are also some rare cases where media can play a useful role. If you are considering going to the media about the kidnapping incident, you should have a clear understanding of your objectives and should consider how you will manage reactions and media requests in the long term. Always bear in mind the potential pitfalls outlined above.
Where co-hostages are still in captivity, you should always inform and consult the people who are managing the negotiations or other resolution before approaching the media, as they have a full picture of communications and background information.
Managing approaches from the media
You may be approached by journalists. Reputable journalists and media professionals will explain what they are after and allow you to ask questions and come back to them in your own time. Others, who do not share your interests, might put unnecessary pressure on you or try to convince you to give them your story in exchange for exclusive information. Do not feel pressured to give your story to any journalists and vet the credibility of all approaches. If you are unsure about whether to give your story, keep a record of the journalist’s contact details so you can reach out to them when you are clear about your final decision.
Journalists will want a lot of information from you, ranging from family life and employment information to the incident and how you are all coping, as well as your opinion on how the incident is being managed by government and other organisations. Because of the global and open nature of the media, you must assume that the kidnappers will read published material. Try not to include anything that could upset them further or encourage them to kidnap someone again.
The following ideas might help you to reduce the stress on you and your family from media contact:
- Write down what you want to say before you speak to a journalist. Stick to that, and do not say more than you had planned to. They will always push you for more and might rely on the silence technique to try to make you fill the gap. Be firm but friendly. Consider giving a prepared statement.
- Whenever you speak to a journalist, make a note of their name, organisation and contact details. Consider screening your phone calls, or having a dedicated number for important calls.
- Consider having one person to act as the point of contact for the media. They will establish relationships with journalists, track what has been said, stop journalists playing one family member off against another, and ensure the family maintains a consistent message.
- Consider recording your conversations with journalists to encourage them to act appropriately and before the interview agree on the parameters of what you are comfortable speaking about.
- Never give a journalist information you don’t want them to report. There is no such thing as ‘off the record’; they can still report what you said but not attribute it to you.
- If you do need to speak to the media, you could use a single interview that is shared around newspapers and TV channels, rather than doing separate interviews for each.
- If more than one hostage has been taken, it is important that the families try to agree on a common media strategy. If you were released before others, the media must be handled with considerable care until all hostages are home safely.
- Journalists can find information put on social media by family members. In conjunction with those handling the kidnapping, consider if it is worth increasing the privacy settings of family members’ social media accounts on a temporary basis.
What to do if a journalist is acting inappropriately
On the whole, most journalists are responsible people. But, they have a job to do and will be under pressure to get information.If you are unhappy with the behaviour of a journalist, you could tell them that you will report them to their employer. If this does not work, go ahead and report them by writing to their editor (newspapers) or news editor (television and radio).
Most people now have social media accounts on lots of different platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Our social media accounts contain personal information about us and our loved ones, where we live, what we spend our money on, how we use our spare time, what we do for a job, and our interests. They also connect us to friends, family, colleagues, people we went to school or university with, and people we might know less well like acquaintances we have met on training courses. Because the information on our social media accounts can be accessed by a wide network of people, it is important to think carefully about what is on your profiles.
Considerations for social media
Liaise with those who are managing the kidnapping response about handling your social media accounts during the incident. You can increase the privacy settings to limit the number of people who have access to your personal information, photos and comments.
Some families who have been through a kidnap have been victims of cyberbullying on social media. Bullies can be people they know or strangers, including ‘trolls’ who proactively find vulnerable people to bully online. This can be very distressing. Cyberbullying should be referred to law enforcement.
What to do if images or videos of co-hostages appear on social media
In some cases, images or videos of your fellow hostages and the kidnapping group might appear online and on social media. Immediately report these videos to the authorities who are investigating the incident.
These videos can be upsetting for victims. It can sometimes be possible to have these removed if they breach the terms of service of the social media or search engine companies. Sometimes it will not be possible and this can be very distressing. You can complain directly to the companies concerned and ask them to take action to remove the images or videos.