Risky journalism

From today’s crikey.com.au 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.

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