Former pirate hostage slams ‘humiliating’ media coverage

One of the Danish hostages who spent 838 days held captive by Somalian pirates has lodged complaints against a tabloid and news channel for breaking ethical codes

A former hostage has complained to the national press watchdog over the media coverage of his time as a hostage in Somalia.

Captain Eddy Lopez spent 838 days in captivity together with fellow Dane Søren Lyngbjørn and four Filipino crew members after their ship, the MV Leopard, was hijacked by Somalian pirates.

The crew were released in April and now Lopez has lodged two complaints with Pressenævnet against the tabloid Ekstra Bladet and the news channel TV2 News.

Both sent freelance reporters to Somalia to interview the two Danes, but Lopez felt the coverage was not in his best interest and violated press ethics.

According to the complaints, which were published in Information newspaper today, Lopez argued that he and Lyngbjørn were beaten by the pirates prior to the interviews in order to make them appear scared and vulnerable.

Lopez said that the journalists were well aware the captives could not speak freely and that everything they were saying was being monitored closely by the pirates, who were happy the media had taken up the story.

“I feel really bad about the programme,” Lopez stated in the complaint, lodged on his behalf by his union, Søfartens Ledere. “We were made to cry and if we didn’t we were beaten. I didn’t want my children to see me like that, or my wife or my family. It’s so frustrating. We were forced to do all sorts of shit: smear goat's blood on our faces to make it look like we were bleeding. It was disgusting. The journalist asked us if we could speak freely […] how stupid can you be? We were being watched by ten pirates with Kalashnikovs!”

The complaint accuses Ekstra Bladet and TV2 News of violating their responsibility to show victims of crime or accidents the greatest possible consideration in their coverage. 

During the captivity, the pirates actively sought out coverge by the Danish media. The Copenhagen Post was on multiple occasions contacted directly by the men’s captors hoping to generate media coverage. At the advice of the Foreign Ministry, the decision was made not to report on the matter, based on the argument that coverage of the men’s captivity could spoil negotiations to free them.

Ekstra Bladet’s coverage started after the hostages had spent 300 days in captivity and ran under the banner, “Should we leave Eddie and Søren to rot in Somalia?”.

Their coverage presented a narrative that blamed the lack of progress in the negotiations on complacency by the hostages’ employer, Shipcraft, and argued their coverage was designed to place pressure on the company’s management to ensure the release of the hostages.

“We know it was controversial and we discussed whether to do it,” Ekstra Bladet editor-in-chief Poul Madsen wrote in an editorial about the decision to run an interview with the two Danish hostages in January. “Of course the pirates have an interest in showing the pain and suffering they are feeling. But this pain and suffering is not something that was invented on the spot.”