McNaught to plead for husband's freedom

By Mathew Dearnaley, Martin Johnston

Broadcaster Anita McNaught hopes to put her professional skills to work in the Middle East today with pleas through the Arab media for the release of her kidnapped husband.

She is also confident of gaining an audience with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is said to have expressed anger to a New Zealand diplomat at the abduction of Fox News cameraman Olaf Wiig and colleague Steve Centanni on Tuesday.

No word has been heard from their kidnappers, although Ms McNaught said she and the rest of her 36-year-old New Zealand-born husband's family were taking heart that no hostage seized in Gaza had been harmed.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman Rob Hole this morning said there had been no developments in the search.

The BBC World Service presenter and former Television New Zealand staffer said she had refrained until now from making her own media appeals for the pair's release, as she did not want to "go over anyone's head".

"They are doing so much here, it's quite clear at an official level how concerned everyone is," she told the Herald last night from Gaza.

"And it's quite clear at an official level that they are appalled by this - but I have to do something more now, and today's the day I start working from a platform of our own, now we're heading for day four with this unresolved."

She said Arab television channel Al Jazeera had been in touch with her two days ago but she wanted to wait before widening the appeal.

"You have to understand everyone is suffering in Gaza - it's absolutely intolerable half the time, so what's so special about me if I come here and go on Arabic media and go, My crisis is bigger than anyone else's?"

Ms McNaught said she had also received a text message from Prime Minister Helen Clark, who spoke on Wednesday night with President Abbas and gained an assurance from him that the Palestinian Authority would do everything it could.

Helen Clark said in Auckland yesterday that the President "was very clear that on hearing of the kidnapping he had instructed the security apparatus of the Palestinian Authority to work to locate the kidnappers and secure their release".

"President Abbas was very fulsome in what he said. His parting comment was that these people are our guests and we will do whatever we can to help."

However, she added it was important to emphasise that the kidnapping had occurred at a time of the greatest crisis in the Middle East for some time "so we have to temper that with that reality".

"But I am confident that no stone is being left unturned to secure Mr Wiig's release."

Ms McNaught said she was confident her husband had not been singled out over any perceived political slant of Fox News.

She said Fox news crew in the field and the channel's Manhattan studio were "quite different animals - Olaf would not have worked for Fox if he felt the journalism he was a part of was in any way misdirected".

"News coverage by Fox reporters and producers in the field is on the whole pretty damn good and these guys are often into areas quicker than anyone else, and they stay in areas longer.

"I think they were taken because they were obviously Westerners and the hope was that they were American."

But she believed Mr Wiig's New Zealand passport was his best insurance policy because of this country's "robust independence from the American political agenda".

"I think it is the safest passport carried by any Westerner and I am so grateful that the New Zealand public is continuing to stand by its political independence in foreign affairs, because that is the single greatest thing for the protection of New Zealanders working abroad."

Mr Wiig's father, Roger, said he and other family members wanted to thank Helen Clark, who had telephoned them to offer her support, and the New Zealand diplomats on site.

Mr Wiig said Fox News continued to provide strong support to his family and Ms McNaught.

- additional reporting NZPA

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