COMMENT:

The primary duty of the media is to disclose, so it takes an exceptional reason not to do so in a story as compelling as New Zealand Red Cross nurse Louisa Akavi's kidnapping by Isis in Syria more than five years ago.

New Zealand governments, both National-led and Labour-led, have made a simple and strong case to domestic and international media over the past six years to not cover her story, on the grounds it would endanger her life.

That approach has had the support of her employer, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) until now.

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It has required some fast action from New Zealand officials, some who have been working full-time on the case since Akavi's kidnapping in Syria in 2013, and some discipline from media rivals.

Everybody knew that once one media outlet broke the story, all others were going to follow.

The decision by the ICRC to reveal her story in The New York Times, after the liberation of the last Isis stronghold of Baghouz in Syria, has changed all that.

The ICRC justified its decision in the interests of needing to find out what happened to Louisa Akavi and her two Syrian colleagues, Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes.

It was also in the interests of showing loyalty to current Red Cross workers - to show that while the story of their kidnapped colleagues had not been told, efforts to find them have been unstinting.

The New Zealand Government has not changed its position on naming Akavi, believing it is still not in the interests of her safety.

But it has accepted the reality that the ICRC was entitled to do what it did with The New York Times and the reality that others would follow once the silence had been broken. It stopped pleading for non-publication.

There have already been suggestions by journalists that Akavi may have joined Isis – a question answered deftly by the head of Red Cross New Zealand that Akavi was the sort of humanitarian who gave help to any person where it was needed in a neutral and impartial way.

Louisa Akavi, the New Zealand nurse missing in Syria since 2013. Photo / Red Cross
Louisa Akavi, the New Zealand nurse missing in Syria since 2013. Photo / Red Cross

It does help to speculate. The imperative to find out what has happened is not lessened by such speculation.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters is leading the Government's response and last week met Akavi's family at the Beehive.

Accepting reality, Peters himself had a prepared statement and timeline ready to publish today as soon as the story broke.

The question is what happens now in terms of actions and statements.

The Government's efforts to locate her or find out what happened to Akavi will not cease.
The team in Iraq will remain in place for now and the ICRC decision will necessarily be the start of some intense publicity in the area.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has declined to comment on Akavi so far and is leaving that to Peters. That may continue beyond today and that is not a bad idea.

Ardern now has an international profile after the mosque terrorist attacks a month ago in Christchurch.

Who can tell how statements from her would be interpreted by the irrational rump of Isis?

The revelation of the incredible story of Louisa Akavi does not mean that caution should be dispensed with.