Freedom rings in auds

Media campaign kept Aubenas' plight in public eye

French journalist Florence Aubenas emerged from 157 days in a pitch-black cellar into the blinding glare of the media spotlight last week, after her June 12 release from captivity in Iraq.

Aubenas’ employer Liberation splashed the hostage story across 20-odd pages and doubled its usual print run to 470,000, while other Gallic media also gave it heavy play.

Aubenas’ first TV account of her ordeal, broadcast live on France 2 on June 14, saw auds rocket from their usual daytime levels. The press conference was watched by 1.65 million people, grabbing a 33% audience share.

Other French nationals have been taken hostage in Iraq, but Aubenas and her Iraqi translator, Hussein Hanoun, have become household names in Gaul thanks to a unprecedented media campaign to keep their plight in the public eye.

Badges bearing their faces were pinned to the tuxedos of gala attendees at last month’s Cannes Film Fesitval — “She will never know anonymity again,” artistic director Thierry Fremaux said — and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who won the Palme d’Or for “The Child,” even dedicated their prize to the two hostages.

Media interest looks unlikely to diminish, thanks to the mystery that still surrounds her capture — and those who helped secure her release: Ex-agents of the Romanian secret service were reportedly involved in advancing negotiations with the Arab cell responsible for the hostage-taking.

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