The BBC’s World News editor has promised to reconsider the way the corporation covers the kidnapping and murder of foreign journalists in the wake of Alan Johnston’s imprisonment and release.
Jon Williams said that many of Johnston’s Palestinian colleagues have been killed in the 114 days since his abduction on 12 March.
“Truthfully, in the past I don’t think that we as an organisation have necessarily given the prominence and the profile to that.
“Personally it’s been a voyage of discovery for me about the significance and the importance we attach and I don’t want anyone to say about the BBC that we didn’t cover the kidnap or the murder of a foreign journalist. So I think we have some lessons to reflect on.”
Williams, speaking at a panel discussion on news safety at Broadcast magazine’s Future of News Conference in London, noted earlier comments from Al Jazeera English managing director Nigel Parsons who said: “There are dozens more [journalists] held hostage around the world who don’t get the same kind of publicity. We have one of our own people [Sami al- Haj] in Guantanamo Bay for five years and he doesn’t seem to get the same support.”
The panel discussed the possibility of a unified campaign for a change in the Rome Statute to create a special war crime to cover the killing of journalists.
Williams revealed that during Johnston’s captivity, the BBC had been pressurising the Palestinian authorities to fulfil their obligations under UN resolution 1738, under which countries and organisations affiliated with the UN have an obligation to protect all civilians including journalists.
“It is not only [an obligation to protect civilians], but also an obligation to chase down and prosecute those who violate resolution 1738,” Williams said. “Part of the importance of the campaign by the BBC and by Palestinian journalists was that countries remembered their obligations.”