• Overview
  • Responsibilities of organisations
  • Best practice in family support
  • Media organisations
      • Responsible interview techniques for the media
        • Challenges for families and hostages
        • Making your approach and preparation
        • During the interview
        • Postinterview
        • Using historic incident material
        • Responding to declines of engagement
      • Our relationship with the media
        • Hostage International can and cant comment on in the media
        • Media interviews with hostage families and former hostages
  • External resources

Media organisations

Responsible interview techniques for the media

You can learn more about organisational responsibilities, family liaison and the experiences of hostages and their families through our training and education programme.  

Challenges for families and hostages

The kidnap and reintegration phase are incredibly challenging times for both the hostage and their families. They will have been dealing with emotional and practical challenges and will be immensely stressed as a result.   Following a hostage’s release, the media are keen to get the family’s and hostage’s story. Some former hostages and their families find it beneficial to tell their story.  Others never want to speak publicly about what they have been through. When they do wish to speak, it is vital they are treated with care, compassion and support. Typical interview techniques could have a detrimental impact on them due to their experiences.

Forcing or pressuring families of hostages and the released hostage to speak about their experience could have very negative consequences for their recovery, and we urge you to be tactful and respect their privacy when they want it.

Hostage International’s priority is the welfare of hostages and their families. Many interviews do not have a tangible benefit for the hostages or their family. We therefore do not seek to facilitate interviews but recognise that engaging in such interviews is their choice. Where a family or hostage has agreed to an interview, it is important for the interviewer to prepare properly and act responsibly. To help you do this with an appreciation of the potential impact on your interviewee, we encourage you to read the information pages for families and former hostages, so you are aware of the challenges they are dealing with. We also put together some top tips in the following section.

Tips for interviewing victims

Media and academic interviews with former hostages and their family members can force those individuals to relive their trauma. However, there are ways you can conduct yourself as the interviewer that can minimise this, and even create a constructive and positive experience.

Making your approach and preparation

Many family members and hostages are likely to be in a state of shock, especially immediately after a kidnapping or return. Shock can cause them to be confused and affect their ability to process information. Should a family be considering your request for an interview, ensure they are fully aware and understand your request clearly so that they can give informed consent.

Information you should provide to a family includes an overview of the process from start to finish (including the post-interview editing phase), how your story will be used and for what audience. Some families may need to make sure that their children do not see the piece, or brace themselves for seeing themselves on particular news channels. Answer any questions they may have clearly and comprehensively.

Your approach should be polite, professional and clear. Do not coerce, harass, offer information in exchange for cooperation or thrust tight deadlines upon them.

Some families may have chosen a spokesperson to be the point of contact for the media. Respect this decision and engage with the people they have elected. Going around them to find other family members to speak to could cause upset and rifts in the family. Also, fraudsters may approach you pretending to be close to the family, check their relationship before engaging with them.

The family may want to get to know you more before they make a decision, as they may be looking for a reputable professional to work with them on publicising their story.

Avoid being the one to relay notification of death to an individual or family. Make sure the appropriate authorities have delivered the news before you mention it. Breaking such news is the role of the authorities and relatives have a right to receive it in private.

If the family ask for you for details of the incident that they may not yet have, carefully consider your response, especially as to whether it is your place to give that information or not. Encourage them to ask the right people for it. Under any circumstances, do not provide them with unconfirmed or speculative information.

During the interview

Show compassion and empathy towards victims while conducting your work. Let them choose how much they want to talk about the incident and do not compel them to delve deeper into the trauma they have experienced. Use supportive phrases such as ‘I am sorry this happened to you’ over leading questions such as ‘How did that make you feel?’.

Avoid “devil’s advocate” questions or questions that might imply blame or that they could have done more.

Make the interview as comfortable as possible for the interviewee. Families feel powerless when a loved one is kidnapped, and so giving them a say in how the interview is conducted can make a huge difference to them. You can:

Provide your list of questions in advance and agree on boundaries for the content;

Ask if they would like a chaperone;

Hold the interview in their preferred place;

Show them the recordings or repeat their quotes;

Allow them to choose photographs for publication; and

If the interviewee becomes upset during the interview, pause for a break and turn off any recording material to respect their privacy. Ask them if they are ready to continue before you proceed.


Do not use graphic or distressing material in your finished piece. Often this is the last picture families have of their loved ones, and it is not how they want them to be remembered. In addition, by using such material, you could be playing to the cause of the kidnapping gang – terrorist organisations are known to spin news stories for propaganda or construe it as publicity for their cause.

Double-check all the information you have gathered about the case before publishing. Inaccurate or misinformation about a kidnapping can cause a lot of upset and stress for victims.

If you are able, invite the family to view the material before it goes out to the public.

Using historic incident material

It is not unusual for historic media material to be considered for newer productions. If you are using historical material as part of your current project, do whatever you can to contact the victims and ask for their permission to use it. This material may have been unethically gathered and could cause families to relive the trauma when seeing it, especially if they come across it unknowingly.

Responding to declines of engagement

Victims’ of serious crime and traumatic incidents, which includes kidnapping, have the right to decline media engagements, and this needs to be respected. This falls under the media principle of doing no further harm.

If a family decline your approach, offer your contact card and say they can message you if they want to talk later.


Our relationship with the media

Hostage International can and can’t comment on in the media

Hostage International rarely comments in the media, as our priority is to respect the privacy of families and former hostages and to deliver an immediate and high-quality support service. When we do comment in the media, we always respect the confidentiality of those concerned and our aim is to raise general awareness of the plight of families and hostages, not to comment on individual cases. When we do talk to the media, here is what we do and do not talk about:

Hostage International can comment in the media about the plight of hostages and their families during and after a kidnapping. We can talk about what families go through, some of the challenges they face – emotional, legal, financial, psychological – and the challenges for hostages of reintegrating into home and work on their return.

Hostage International can comment on the need for independent and confidential help for families and returning hostages and their need to access specialist professional care from mental health professionals, lawyers and others.

Hostage International can comment on how the needs of families and hostages have changed over time and some of the new challenges they face. These include the rise of social media, changing media reporting practices, and the growth of terrorist hostage taking for financial, political and propaganda purposes.

Hostage International will NOT comment on individual cases, whether we are involved in supporting the hostage or their family or not. We never pass judgment on what an individual or their family is doing in these circumstances. They have very difficult decisions to make and there is rarely a right or wrong answer.

Hostage International will NOT comment on what is being done to bring about the release of the hostage. We do not play a role in bringing hostages home and are not privy to information about what is being done. We are therefore not qualified to make judgments about whether the right strategy is being adopted or if enough is being done. Speculation of this kind can be hurtful for the family and can have a negative impact on negotiations. This is a matter for families, not Hostage International.

Hostage International will NOT talk about the payment of ransoms. We recognise there are laws which illegalise the payment of ransoms in certain situations and that families must make incredibly difficult decisions about their loved ones. We also recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and the strategy for resolving a kidnapping will be unique to each case.

Hostage International is a small charity which is focussed on service delivery for hostages and their families. Sometimes we might not be able to get back to you. We will always do our best to respond as soon as we can. We are grateful for your patience and understanding.

Media interviews with hostage families and former hostages

Hostage International receives requests for interviews with former hostages and family members. We do our best to pass on these requests, but we cannot confirm to you whether we have supported the individual or not, as we provide our support on a confidential basis. We will never put pressure on anyone to take part in an interview.

We are grateful for your understanding that we are primarily a service delivery organisation and cannot always respond quickly to non-service related enquiries.


You can learn more about organisational responsibilities, family liaison and the experiences of hostages and their families through our training and education programme.