The military and media in Afghanistan

A CTV war correspondent says the Canadian public is more concerned for the Canadian soldiers’ welfare than the progress of the mission in Afghanistan.

Panellists at the Robert Gill Theatre on the campus of the University of Toronto recently debated public perception of Canada’s military role in Afghanistan. Lisa LaFlamme, a CTV reporter who has spent the last five years covering Canada’s military efforts in Afghanistan, believes that Canadian citizens pay greatest attention to the human interest aspect in the mission.

“Journalists working in Afghanistan have been accused of concentrating only on the body bag count and not on the reconstruction efforts of the Canadian forces,” LaFlamme said.

“It is such a flashpoint issue for Canadians, how the media covers Canada’s role in Afghanistan and what the public actually absorbs of what we are able to tell them.”

LaFlamme said there is limited accessibility in a war zone. “There are rules in Afghanistan of what we are allowed and not allowed to report in Afghanistan,” she said.

“At the Kandahar airfield base, journalists are immediately required to sign a stack of documents of what we are allowed to cover.” She added there is a long list of non-releasable information and strict security surrounding the combat operations and most relief efforts.

Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie has served in the Canadian army in Afghanistan since 2003. He acknowledges that stories of rebuilding in Afghanistan are overshadowed by those of death and destruction, but he argued that it’s the journalist’s choice.

“The media can choose what they want to cover,” he said. “We don’t shake them to go towards the combat missions or the reconstruction efforts. Instead we try to present a menu.”

According to an Ipsos Reid poll released this week, 33 per cent of Canadians say the media present a negative view of Canadian military efforts in Afghanistan because they’re against the mission. It also said that only 14 per cent say the media slants coverage positively because they’re in favour of the mission.

LaFlamme also noted that 56 per cent of Canadians surveyed in the Ipsos Reid poll also believe they are seeing more coverage about the combat element in Afghanistan than the rebuilding efforts.

Following the release of the polls, John Wright, senior vice-president for Ipsos-Reid said that a majority of Canadians still support the troops in Afghanistan. He says that both the media and the military are responsible for painting a vague picture of the war in Afghanistan, causing Canadian citizens to be focused on other issues closer to home.

“There are more people protesting on Parliament Hill against agricultural circumstances in this country then those protesting against the war,” Wright said.

Filed from The Centre for Creative Communications