Home > Commentary > Hostage taking events, media coverage and government broadcast regulation: striking the right balance

Hostage taking events, media coverage and government broadcast regulation: striking the right balance

I have just created a new page to house an extended series my colleague and I authored and from which we’ve drawn for a range of works. With my colleague Nick’s permission I’ve put a copy up here because this really is an important issue that just hasn’t had the traction that it should in Australia — although its relevance extends out to all those countries facing an increasingly complex threat environment. It is not an anti-media piece or an anti-government piece; it attempts to highlight the risks and to spur a discussion on what more can be done to ensure the safety of all those involved in such incidents is protected. A brief abstract follows the longer series of posts, placed here together for ease of reading.

Survivors of the hostage crisis that rocked Paris in January this year recently filed an unprecedented complaint against French media for endangerment and called for a new legal framework to police live coverage of events. The Paris Prosecutor’s Office is now investigating, while French Broadcast authorities are considering further regulatory action. In the aftermath of the Sydney siege, Australia’s media was heavily lauded for its responsible coverage. But it was not without incident or problems, many of which could have resulted in harm to hostages and adversely affected the outcome of the incident. Because they did not, they are unlikely to come to further attention in Australia, but are nonetheless important to consider. Had events unfolded differently in Sydney, legal action similar to that now underway in Paris could be before Australian courts. This should be cause for concern for Australian media and government. It should also stimulate a discussion between them on whether it is time to codify what type of responsible media practices are required when covering such an event and how these might best be regulated. To date, it has not. In this series of posts we outline the risks of such coverage and look at how other countries have attempted to deal with balancing press freedoms with protecting public safety and order before turning to consider what might be an appropriate response for Australia.


Dr Nicholas Gilmour is a Teaching Fellow at Massey University in Wellington teaching Intelligence, Crime and Security and Crime Science. Nicholas is a former British and New Zealand Police Officer and hostage negotiator. Dr Leah Farrall is a Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s USSC, and a Senior Lecturer in Security Studies at Massey University. She was formerly a Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police.

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