Four journalists employed by the New York Times in Libya are missing amidst the civil war that grips the north African nation, editors for "the Gray Lady" revealed on Thursday.
The editors said their last contact with the missing journalists, who were reporting from the eastern city of Ajdabiya, was Tuesday morning EST. While there were reports the journalists had been seized by Qaddaffi loyalist troops, there has been no confirmation to date.
"We have talked with officials of the Libyan government in Tripoli, and they tell us they are attempting to ascertain the whereabouts of our journalists,” NYTimes' Executive Editor Bill Keller said. “We are grateful to the Libyan government for their assurance that if our journalists were captured they would be released promptly and unharmed.”
The missing journalists are two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for foreign reporting Anthony Shadid, the Times' Beirut bureau chief (who was shot in the shoulder in 2002 while covering events in Judea and Samaria for the Boston Globe); Stephen Farrell, a reporter and videographer (previously kidnapped by the Taliban in 2009, and subsequently rescued by British commandos); and two photographers with extensive experience in Africa and the Mideast, Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario.
Keller said there is speculation the journalists have been detained at a government checkpoint between Ajdabiya and Benghazi, a rebel stronghold in eastern Libya. If that is the case, he said, they would eventually be taken to Tripoli, adding, “Beyond that, we’re still pretty much in the dark."
Uprisings throughout the the region have made journalism a perilous trade. During the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, journalists were assaulted, accosted, detained and even killed. Lara Logan of CBS News was gang-raped by a group of men and an Egyptian reporter was shot and killed.
Journalists’ safety in Libya has become uncertain amidst the reigning chaos that has taken a hold of the regime. Last week, four BBC journalists were detained by Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s security forces, beaten with rifles, and subjected to mock executions, according to the network. A cameraman for Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based television network, was gunned down in what it said was apparently an ambush near Benghazi last week, as well.
“In every one of these countries there are vital stories unfolding, stories of crucial significance that need to be told, so it’s understandable that news organizations are accepting a certain level of risk,” Joel Simon, Executive Director of The Committee to Protect Journalists, said. “But how do you balance those risks? Those are very tough calls that journalists and news organizations have to make on an ongoing basis. But the starting point, I think, has to be these are crucially important stories.”
The Times, like many news organizations, has procedures in place to carefully track its journalists’ whereabouts in war zones and areas of conflict. Susan Chira, foreign editor of The Times, said that each night, editors discuss plans for the following day with their correspondents, who are expected to check in regularly.
“We expect to hear from them several times a day — and so do their colleagues in the field, who are often our early warning system of any trouble," Chira said.