The BBC worked to persuade Alan Johnston’s captors that it was important for journalism that he be released. Working closely with the foreign office, the BBC’s strategy was to see the issue as a local one but with repercussions for journalism worldwide.
‘We saw it as a local issue which would be dealt with by the Palestinians and really tried to get them to focus on it and get them to understand how important it was for journalism and for journalists and their [the captors’] standing that they should try and resolve this,’BBC head of newsgathering Fran Unsworth told Press Gazette.
Unsworth said that the first month after Johnston’s abduction on 12 March was spent trying to find out what was going on.
‘It quickly became apparent this was a very complex situation tied up in the local politics of Gaza. We focused on that, talked to a lot of people from Fatah and Hamas, we sent out our top guns from the BBC like Mark Thompson, to exert as much influence and try to put it on everybody’s agenda as much as we do could.”
Unsworth thanked the journalistic community for highlighted Johnston’s plight and refraining from publishing material that might have harmed his case. She said the media pressure was crucial to influencing the local politics.
Johnston has spent some of his first few hours since his release giving interviews to a number of media outlets. Unsworth said he was using the opportunity to thank everyone for the support but would probably want some privacy over the next few days.
Unsworth is flying out to meet Johnston today and said that as yet she to speak to Johnston about his treatment over the four months but said of the future: ‘It’s going to be some time, it’s going to an ordeal he’s going to have to get over.”
Helen Boaden, director of BBC News told BBC News 24 that the corporation would now offer Johnston any assistance it could to help him deal with his ordeal. ‘We take a lot of advice from the police who have experience in hostage taking and psychologists who also know the impactâ€¦ you can’t be prescriptive about itâ€¦what the impact will be on Alan. He’s a very grown up highly sophisticated, brave man.”
Ceri Thomas, editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme said that Johnston had been ‘fantastic’ in the hours since his release.
‘He has been working under tremendous pressure for the past three years prior to being kidnapped – that may have been in some way a kind of training for this morning. You couldn’t fail to be struck by just how composed and fluid he was, and willing to speak to everybody.”