A NABET-CWA member is credited with saving the lives of his ABC news team after they were carjacked and threatened with beheading, one of more than 100 violent attacks on journalists covering the events in Egypt.
Akram Abi-hanna, a veteran ABC photographer from Local 51016 in New York City, used his Lebanese heritage and Arabic language skills to persuade the pro-Mubarak mob to release him, producer Brian Hartman and two other team members. Hartman said Abi-hanna is only reason they are still alive.
“The men released us only after our cameraman appealed to the generous spirit of the Egyptian people, hugging and kissing an elder,” Hartman wrote in a Twitter message.
In a news report that ended with anchor Diane Sawyer praising Abi-hanna's “spiritual genius,” Hartman described the chilling scene. “There was a man in a police uniform as angry as I've ever seen anybody in my life, looking me in the eye, screaming. He thought the media coverage was biased against President Mubarak. He said, 'So help me God, I will cut off your head' and all around him people are saying, 'Cut head now! Cut head now!' It was terrifying.”
The Feb. 3 events began when the news team was stopped at a checkpoint on a road between Cairo's airport and downtown. As their credentials were being checked, a man pushed their driver out of the car, jumped in and drove them toward the mob. “We thought we were goners,” Hartman said. “We absolutely thought we were doomed.”
NABET-CWA President Jim Joyce said Abi-hanna is a longtime local member and ABC staff photographer who often takes overseas assignments. In the past two weeks, ABC and NBC have deployed a number of NABET-CWA members to cover the events in Egypt for network and local TV news. It's not clear how many other NABET members, as well as TNG-CWA members, may still be working in Egypt.
Our viewers and readers don't necessarily realize what it takes to get these stories and how much risk people put into their jobs. What happened to Akram and his team in Egypt is a dramatic example of how our members selflessly put their lives on the line to bring the important stories of world-changing events to people back in the United States and around the world.
This article originally appeared in Feb. 10 edition of the CWA weekly newsletter.