Pearl: kidnapped and murdered
Increased co-operation among TV news chiefs may have thwarted a Taliban plot to kidnap journalists and hold them hostage in Afghanistan, ITN’s former editor-in-chief Richard Tait has claimed.
Journalists from the BBC, ITN, CNN and other US networks were pulled out from a planned visit under Taliban escort to the border town of Spin Boldak after the plot was uncovered.
A high-profile kidnap would have sent shock waves through the media industry which suffered eight deaths during the Afghan campaign.
Journalists working there were in particular danger as they were more likely to be viewed by the Taliban as an extension of their Governments and, as such, legitimate targets.
The thwarted plot to kidnap the journalists has chilling echoes of the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, kidnapped in January in Pakistan and later murdered.
"There was a consistent warning of the danger that, if the crews had gone deeper into Afghanistan they were going to be kidnapped and held hostage, or worse. We all know what happened to Danny Pearl," said Tait.
"We got information from so many different sources that we came to the conclusion we should believe it."
Despite the eagerness of picture-starved TV news organisations to get into Taliban-held areas at the centre of the conflict, all executives in the safety group – which still meets to discuss safety issues – agreed to pull their crews out.
"Four or five years ago that simply wouldn’t have happened," said Tait. "If I had rung up the BBC and said, ‘I won’t go if you won’t go’, they would have been more likely to say, ‘Our man Simpson says it’s a good story, so screw you Tait, I’m off’."
By Julie Tomlin