Envoy in Trouble

16Dec08

My most recent entry at mediascout.ca. Presented here are the introductory paragraphs. For the rest, please visit the site.

December 16, 2008

When international crises abruptly break, Big Seven newsrooms increasingly rely on wire services for quick and informative copy. The most reliable exceptions are stories about Canadians in peril, which are often staff-written pieces that chronicle the Canadian angle on what tends to be a story with a wider lens. When prominent former diplomat Robert Fowler disappeared yesterday in Niger, news sources responded in typical fashion. The various reports feature much of the same information: Fowler is a UN special envoy for Niger; he was in the country with another Canadian diplomat when the pair and their driver went missing about forty-five kilometres from the capital, Niamey; their cell phones were left behind, suggesting a quick exit. Fowler is a seasoned diplomat who has been a major player behind the scenes and on the ground. The Star runs a full profile. Most sources explain Niger and its political situation (fairly safe, but there are widespread kidnappings in the north) and allude to one of a number of rebel factions that operate in the country. Today’s coverage sets the stage for tomorrow’s coverage, which will presumably contain more specific information about Fowler’s safety or lack thereof.

Except that — as has become the norm — the Big Seven post online updates this morning as news of the kidnapping develops. The updates are pumped out by wire agencies closer to the ground. As it turns out, a rebel group, the Front des Forces de Redressement, claims on its website to have kidnapped Fowler and ensured in a statement that the Canadian would be treated well. The group says it abducted Fowler because Canada provides arms to the government of Niger. The FFR is apparently led by Rhissa Ag Boula, whom the CBC refers to as a “dissident rebel” in command of an insurgent faction related to the more prominent Movement for Justice in Niger, to which some of the Big Seven refer, however vaguely, in their print coverage. Of course, none of the latest information can be found in the print editions or taped broadcasts so carefully crafted by the Big Seven, but perhaps that gloomy lament is not even worth the effort. The sources are proving themselves fairly adept at adapting to the Internet’s competitive advantages, even if it does mean publishing wire copy that is similar — or often identical — to their competitors’, until their own editions later tonight and tomorrow.

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