The argument raged for weeks in the dingy newsrooms and dusty Afghanistan bureaus of major international news organizations: What to do about the case of Mellissa Fung?

Ms. Fung's kidnapping two days before the federal election triggered hand-wringing on an international scale as Ms. Fung's employer, the CBC, pleaded for discretion from rival news organizations.

Fragile negotiations for her release could be instantly derailed by any publicity, the public broadcaster, the military and the Prime Minister's Office argued. Headlines might doom Ms. Fung to extra months of captivity, if not worse.

Panicked kidnappers could simply kill her to dispense with the danger of a raid by special forces if the incident became big news.

Ms. Fung could also have been sold to a bidder with a political interest in a high-profile Canadian captive, complicating matters considerably.

Arguments for an embargo were countered by a cherished instinct among most reporters and editors to err on the side of full disclosure.

"Consequences are not something journalists usually think about because they aren't in the business of shaping outcomes," said Globe and Mail editor-in-chief Edward Greenspon. "If a given piece of information is newsworthy, in the public interest, it's 'publish and be damned.' On the other hand, there are no absolutes. Editors exist to exercise their discretion about what should be published and in what way."

Throughout newsrooms participating in the embargo, yet another vexing question was repeatedly asked: Would we do the same for anyone else caught in similar circumstances?

Mr. Greenspon said an individual's safety must always be balanced against the importance of quickly informing the public.

"The principles by which we live in a perfect world are clearly not in alignment with [an embargo]," he said. "But we're not in the business of putting lives in jeopardy."

An array of major news organizations came to the same conclusion and held off reporting on the case until Ms. Fung was released on the weekend.

Several TV networks, newspapers such as The New York Times and wire services such as the Associated Press all decided, along with The Globe and Mail and other major Canadian news organizations, to hold back.

CBC News publisher John Cruickshank credited news organizations with helping to secure Ms. Fung's release, but said he understood their dilemma. "We must put the safety of the victim ahead of our normal instinct for full transparency and disclosure," Mr. Cruickshank said.

While top editors agreed to the embargo, journalists were far from unanimous.

Michèle Ouimet, a columnist with Montreal's La Presse, questioned the wisdom of engaging in negotiations with the enemy and the ethics behind the information freeze.

"Journalists are the first to invoke the public's right to information, but they become awfully sensitive when it comes to one of their own," Ms. Ouimet wrote.

Like Ms. Ouimet, one senior southwestern Asia correspondent wondered whether a person who was not connected to a powerful Canadian broadcaster would receive the same treatment.

"If we get into this argument, then every story we write has to be looked at with this in mind," said the reporter, who isn't authorized to give interviews by her employer.

The Fung case is not the first time that Canadian journalists have held back on publishing stories or omitted certain details to protect those involved.

In 2006, The Globe and Mail and other organizations refrained from referring to the homosexuality of Christian aid worker James Loney, who was held captive for 118 days in Iraq. It was believed Mr. Loney's extremist Muslim captors might kill him if they knew his sexual orientation.

At the federal government's request, The Globe and others also maintained an embargo in the first 24 hours after the kidnapping of Mr. Loney and two colleagues.

In 1980, La Presse withheld a story on the famous "Canadian Caper" in Iran. Washington correspondent Jean Pelletier learned of the rescue of six American hostages in Iran by Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, but the reporter refused to allow his paper to publish the story until the former captives left Iran.

Mr. Pelletier argued journalists can't "just simply apply your principle of 'publish and be damned' to each and every situation."

Ms. Fung was kidnapped Oct. 12, the day before Thanksgiving and two days before the federal election.

Reports of the incident trickled into newsrooms on the holiday weekend. Among the first Canadian news organizations to face the prickly question of whether to run the story was The Canadian Press, which expected a dispatch from partner wire service, the Associated Press.

Scott White, editor-in-chief of The Canadian Press, said CBC moved quickly to ask the wire services to wait.

Mr. White said his decision to hold off was relatively easy because The Canadian Press has a clear policy set out in its guidebook.

"The very first sentence of the section on kidnapping and terrorism is, 'No news story is worth someone's life,' " Mr. White said.

Ms. Fung's kidnapping quickly reached The Globe newsroom from correspondent Graeme Smith, who was in Afghanistan. Mr. Greenspon consulted with key editors, Mr. Cruickshank and some U.S. and European editors with more experience in kidnapping cases. He quickly decided to hold the story after hearing reporting can "seriously exacerbate the danger."

Adding to discomfort in Canadian newsrooms was the timing just before the federal vote. Editors stood to be accused of protecting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government from bad news out of Afghanistan.

"I didn't think it was going to be an election-altering event, but that did weigh on me," Mr. Greenspon said. "A citizenry should be fully informed. That is the ideal to which we all aspire. That is information that may have been salient to some citizens that they didn't know."

Experts argued it was also a time of deep peril for Ms. Fung. While her case may have become an election issue, an online video of her execution would have caused an even greater uproar, had her kidnappers known her potential value.

The news blackout was anticipated to last 48 to 72 hours but dragged into weeks. Rumours swirled about Ms. Fung's whereabouts, potential rescue attempts and ransom demands.

The Globe nearly obtained interviews with Ms. Fung's captors - and possibly Ms. Fung herself - setting off another round of debates about the ethical pitfalls ahead. The interviews fell through.

Weeks passed and other kidnappings took place. In one instance, an embargo was honoured in the case of a Dutch journalist. She was released after nearly a week in captivity.

Michael Lescroart, editor of Belgium's P-Magazine, said the embargo played a key role in saving the life of the Dutch reporter, Joanie de Rijke. The quiet treatment of her case allowed talks to be held directly with the kidnappers, he said. She was kidnapped Nov. 1 near Kabul and released on Friday.

In the case of a French aid worker, the news spread quickly, partly because a bystander trying to intervene was killed when she was taken on a busy Kabul street. The woman is still missing. The Globe received no request to withhold the news in the aid worker's case.

Mr. White of The Canadian Press said "every respectable news organization would hold off" if a trusted source warned that a story could endanger a person's life.

A web of personal connections to Ms. Fung complicated the ethical dilemma for Canadian news media outlets. The affable young woman is popular among her peers and has worked across Canada.

Canadian editors who have sent dozens of journalists into Afghanistan could only be sympathetic to the plight of Ms. Fung and the CBC.

"Every time my phone goes off in the middle of the night, I'm convinced it's the call. It scares ... you," Mr. White said.

"I'd hope if I were in the same situation [as the CBC] I'd get a break."

With a report from Graeme Smith