Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Nobody's covering the Afghan side of the war..."

If the real story of Canada's engagement in Kandahar is really a story about "courage and grit and idealism" – as Osprey Media national affairs columnist Michael Den Tandt says it is, and as I've long been convinced it is – then why has Canada's news media done such a lousy job of telling that story?

It's partly because the people in the best position to tell that story "have been gagged," Den Tandt writes. It's also partly because "nobody’s covering the Afghan side of the war." Just one result is that the picture of the Afghan conflict that emerges in Canada's news media tends not portray the real struggle going on there, and Canada's role in that struggle.

Ask yourself the last time – anytime – you heard about the Canadian-led landmine-clearing project that's making Afghanistan a safe place to merely walk outside, or the 3,000 war widows in Kabul who have started up business with microloans financed by Canada, or the 34,000 Afghan troops we've helped to equip and train, or the 200 small-business projects Canada has funded in Kandahar City.

Hundreds of Canadian journalists have been circulated through Kandahar in recent years, and it's always the same. Tag along with a convoy and go for a drive, take in a little bit of bangbang, and maybe even lead the nightly news with a ramp ceremony. It's a situation-farce, and the Canadian Forces are not blameless in it, as Den Tandt so clearly explains.

While it's important to bear in mind that the Taliban are "fighting a media war, designed to stimulate anguished coverage in Western capitals, which then creates political pressure for a pullout," Den Tandt writes, it's not the media's job to fight a media war on our behalf. But it is the media's job to do its job.

This brings me to what I think is the really significant thing about Den Tandt's analysis.

What's important about it is that he wrote it. And he's not just a national affairs columnist who took the time to travel to Afghanistan, he's also the editor of one of the newspapers he writes columns for – the Osprey-owned Owen Sound Sun Times.

Osprey Media's market penetration consists of 20 dailies that boast a combined circulation of about 325,000 subscriptions. Its weeklies take in roughly 378,000 more readers. By itself, the Toronto Star, Canada's largest-circulation daily newspaper, sells about 360,000 newspapers a day, and a half a million newspapers on weekends.

The Star's parent company, Torstar, also owns a fifth of CTVGlobemedia, which owns the vast CTV television network and the Globe and Mail. Then there's Canwest Global. It's often unfairly maligned, but let's not kid ourselves. It's a conglomerate. It's Pravda.

Canwest Global's dailies and weeklies dominate almost every major Canadian city (the National Post, the Vancouver Sun, the Edmonton Journal, the Montreal Gazette, the Ottawa Citizen) and its Global TV network commands major penetration in more than 90 per cent of Canada's television markets.

Journalists from Torstar, the Globe, and Canwest have done yeoman service in Afghanistan. Fair play to the Globe's Christie Blatchford and Graeme Smith, the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno, and Canwest's Matthew Fisher (I'm especially partial to Rosie, myself). But keep Den Tandt's observations in mind whenever you read something about Afghanistan in the Globe or The Star, or see some report on the Global TV news. Many of those journalists, embedded in their comfortable Toronto offices, should be embarrassed to read Den Tandt's fine analysis.

One last point. Read The Torch, which is where I first came upon Den Tandt's essay. If you're honestly interested in what's happening in Afghanistan, read The Torch religiously.


Blogger RadicalOmnivore said...

I received another breathless group email from our illustrious Green Party yesterday.
This time they're informing me as to their policy poition of "bringing the troops home".
How many dozens of reasons can our hapless Greens give this potential eco-voter to ignore them??

6:57 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

I understand that there has been a modicum of rational debate among Greens about this. It would be nice to hear from them; principled New Democrats have fallen terribly quietly about the issue lately. . .

1:29 PM  
Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

There is some news that may get you irked, Terry:

Were does this Paddy Ashdown character get off?

12:19 PM  

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