Kim Beazley was asked by Radio National’s Fran Kelly this morning for
his reaction to the kidnapping in Iraq of Australian contractor Douglas
Wood: “Is this what you feared might happen?” she asked. “Yes I have,
and I’m surprised it hasn’t happened till now,” replied the opposition
leader.

How quickly they forget. It’s already slipped Beazley’s mind that it
has already happened. Just over six months ago, SBS TV journalist John
Martinkus was kidnapped from outside the Australian embassy in
Baghdad. His ordeal lasted less than 24 hours before he was
released.

What’s clear is that the government is taking a markedly different
approach to this latest hostage taking than its approach to the
Martinkus kidnapping. Back in October,
Alexander Downer criticised Martinkus for putting himself at risk by
being in Baghdad, thereby contributing to his own capture.

Yesterday, both Downer and the prime minister steered clear of
criticising the latest Australian hostage. Both have expressed sympathy
for his plight – a far cry from the attacks levelled at Martinkus.
We’ll do all we can to save hostages, says Howard.

Could it be that the government views the work of contractors for the
US army as a legitimate reason for being in Iraq, while journalists are
discouraged? With the arrival in Iraq of the latest Australian
military contingent, it will be interesting to see to what lengths our
government tries to control media coverage – and discourage
journalists who seek to report from the war front.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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