Don't blame war correspondent victims

A still from a video of journalist Peter Theo Curtis taken during his imprisonment by al-Qaeda affiliates Image copyright AP
Image caption Peter Theo Curtis is now free from his al-Qaeda affiliated kidnappers

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The line between tragedy and rescue when a journalist is kidnapped is thin and random, writes Columbia University journalism school dean Steve Coll in the New Yorker.

James Foley's Islamic State captors chose to execute him for propaganda purposes. Another reporter, Peter Theo Curtis, was freed by an al-Qaeda affiliate group.

No matter the outcome, Coll says, the public and the media shouldn't second-guess the actions of war correspondents who put their lives on the line to cover the story. Asking whether Foley was "reckless", as NPR's Kelly McEvers did recently, is unjustified.

He writes:

"Kidnapped journalists are crime victims. In most fields of crime, we've learned not to blame the victim - although exceptions persist, often because of racism or sexism. Foreign correspondence is a risky business with a public purpose. It is not as if the seductions of travelling in hard places for low pay and the possibility of death or imprisonment presents some form of moral hazard, particularly not for American correspondents, whose government has made it quite clear that it will not bail them out, except possibly by a special-forces raid."

Coll recalls his work as a senior editor at the Washington Post, where he and his fellow managers prepared for the possibility that one of their Iraq War reporters could be captured. He says that while the US and UK governments have a policy of not negotiating with kidnappers, "corporations and families should be free to make their own decisions".

"If the Obama Administration or a successor believes that paying ransoms endangers the common good, let it try to pass a law banning the practice," he writes. "It won't be easy."

These days, he writes, it may be more dangerous for young reporters to cover war because most of them, like Foley, are freelancers, without the protection and training provided by full-time employers.

Coll says that war zones, however, "have always attracted young reporters who learn by doing, from their mistakes and from those of colleagues".

As long as there is war, there will be people who risk their lives to bring the stories to the public. And, sadly, there will likely be more lives lost.


Risk remains for Japan's nuclear reactors - More than three years after the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, writes Arnie Gundersen for the Lebanon Daily Star, Japan's reactors remain vulnerable to a nuclear meltdown.

"Japan is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis," he writes. "Is reopening its nuclear plants worth the risk to its people and their homeland?"

Even after Japan's brush with disaster, the country continues to promote the nuclear industry, he says.

"Fukushima, and before it Chernobyl, shows us that nuclear technology will always be able to destroy the fabric of a country in the blink of an eye," Gundersen concludes.

Timor Leste

No longer a failed state - One of the world's youngest nations, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, is no longer the war-torn country it once was, says Timor-Leste President of the Council of Ministers Agio Pereira. It is now finding stability and even success.

"Over the years, more than a few armchair critics have prognosticated the demise of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste," he writes in Foreign Affairs. "But nation-builders do not indulge notions of failure."

The fledgling state not only boasts a democratically elected government, it also has the Pacific's fastest-growing economy with impressive oil and gas reserves, Pereira says.

"Rome was not built in a day or even in 12 years," he writes. "Those who remember the history of their own countries should be less hasty to issue premature judgement of another."


Bashar Assad's deadly trap - As talk of airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) grows in Washington, the US should be wary of Syrian President Bashar Assad's conniving ways, writes Fred Hof for the New Republic.

"Assad has pursued with single-minded discipline a very simple strategy - sell oneself as the fire brigade to help hose the flames of one's own arson," he says.

After Mr Assad released Islamist prisoners from jail, thus purposely creating violent sectarianism amongst his opponents, the president then hoped that the West would come back to his side to help fight the spread of terrorism, says Hof.

"Assad has every reason to believe his strategy will bear fruit," writes Hof. "Now, as the US contemplates an aerial campaign against IS targets in the east, Assad envisions a continuation of living large at the expense of others - Iran, Russia, IS and now America."


Electoral pessimism grows - Following the 13 August death of Socialist Party presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, the outlook for the Brazilian general election has changed, writes Beatriz Miranda Cortez for El Espectador (translated by WorldCrunch).

"The October election comes amid growing dissatisfaction with the political parties and their traditions of patronage, especially among the country's young voters," she says.

"There has been a vigorous campaign in favour of abstention or casting blank votes, and it seems as if the generation that fought the country's dictatorship in the 1970s and forged its transition to democracy has come to the end of the line."

For many voters, Campos represented the change the country needed, says Cortez, but now the country must choose from who remains.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Afghan media offer their views on allegations of fraud in the review of voting in Afghanistan's recent presidential election and candidate Abdullah Abdullah's decision to withdraw his observers from the process.

"Prolonging the process will cause serious problems for the country on the economic and security fronts." - Editorial in Hasht-e Sobh.

"The claims made by [Mr Abdullah's] camp regarding the cases of fraud in elections have been proved baseless and nonsense... However, no one can tolerate a delay in the election process... The Afghan people demand that the process ends immediately." - Editorial in Sarnawesht.‎

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