News24

Wikipedia hushed journo kidnap

2009-06-29 21:21

Washington - The New York Times worked with Wikipedia to keep news of the kidnapping of one of its reporters in Afghanistan off the online user-edited encyclopaedia, the newspaper reported on Monday.

New York Times reporter David Rohde, who was kidnapped by the Taliban in November, escaped from his captors along with his translator this month.

A number of news organisations, including Agence France-Presse, at the request of the New York Times, agreed not to report the kidnapping out of concerns for their safety.

Keeping the news off Wikipedia was another matter however, the Times said.

It said that on at least a dozen occasions, user-editors posted news of the abduction on a Wikipedia page about Rohde, only to have it erased. Several times the page was frozen, preventing further editing, it said.

'Sanitising was as team effort'

"The sanitising was a team effort, led by Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, along with Wikipedia administrators and people at the Times," the newspaper said.

"We were really helped by the fact that it hadn't appeared in a place we would regard as a reliable source," Wales told the Times. "I would have had a really hard time with it if it had."

The Times said that two days after the November 10 kidnapping, Michael Moss, an investigative reporter at The Times and friend of Rohde, altered Rohde's Wikipedia entry to emphasise his work that could be seen as sympathetic to Muslims, like his reporting on Guantanamo and his coverage of the Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims.

It said that the next day, an unidentified user, citing an Afghan news agency report, edited the entry on Rohde and mentioned the kidnapping.

Moss deleted the mention, and the user promptly restored it, adding a note protesting the removal, the Times said.

It said the Times eventually reached out to Wales and Wikipedia put an indefinite block and then a temporary freeze on changes to the page.

"We had no idea who it was," Wales said of the unidentified user making the edits. He said there was no indication the user had ill intent.

The Times said Wales himself unfroze the page after the June 19 escape by Rohde and his interpreter, Tahir Ludin.

AFP