Matthew Fisher: “Where have all the embeds gone?”

At any given time in 2006, when the Canadian military formally launched its embed program, between 10 – 15 journalists were embedded and reporting in Kandahar. Same goes for 2007 and 2008. Now? There are two, and one of them, Postmedia’s Matthew Fisher, is speaking out.

In his April 13 column Fisher asks
: “Where have all the embeds gone?”

“This should be a crucial time for Canadian journalists to be in Kandahar,” he writes. “Having spent billions of taxpayers’ dollars in southern Afghanistan, Canada’s last fighting season here starts in a few weeks and combat forces will soon begin the complicated handover of security responsibilities for Panjwaii district to a U.S. Army Stryker brigade from Fort Wainwright, Alaska.”

Ouch, right? Well Fisher’s only warming up. He continues:

“You would think that this would be the ideal time for journalists to assess Canada’s military and diplomatic triumphs and failures in Kandahar and to provide insights into the Harper government’s controversial new training mission, which is soon to begin in northern Afghanistan. But Canadian editors obviously have different priorities. For them — although certainly not for the soldiers and their kin or Canadian taxpayers, Afghanistan is yesterday’s war.”

Fisher then catalogues what media organizations have sent what reporters to Afghanistan, how recently, and for how long. The results are dismal, particularly so when you consider the scores of reporters sent “to places overseas that have little or no direct connection to Canada.” (Or the resources being sunk into covering the Royal wedding.)

Coverage has been particularly sparse among French news organizations, Fisher adds, prompting many French soldiers to bitterly remark that the only interviews they’ve ever given have been in English. (Though Fisher frankly admits that since 2009 English news organizations haven’t done much better.)

“No kudos from readers or rival news outfits are expected but, for the record, Postmedia News and its predecessor, Canwest News Service, and The Canadian Press have been the only organizations to have provided constant coverage of Ottawa’s nine-year involvement in Afghanistan,” he writes. “They have provided constant coverage of the army’s stability mission in Kabul between 2003 and 2005 and have always had a reporter embedded during the second combat mission in the south, which began here exactly five years ago and ends in July.