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 Photo: Corporal James Sinclair of the Royal Regina Rifles Photo by Julie-Anne Johnston
by Julie-Anne Johnston

On December 30, 2009, the Canadian media counted its first casualty in Afghanistan. Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald, along with four Canadian soldiers, was killed after a roadside bomb exploded in the convoy she was traveling with. It was a stark reminder to journalists and audiences alike that the job still has its dangers.

The media and soldiers both have jobs to do. While training to go overseas, soldiers learn to do their job with the media around.

“Somewhere, somehow you’re going to run into a situation where there’s going to be media around,” said Corporal James Sinclair of the Royal Regina Rifles, who served in Afghanistan in 2006 with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.In 2010, it seems the only way the media can travel in relative safety is by being embedded with the Canadian Forces, as Lang was. Embedding a journalist also raises questions about the logistics involved.

Despite the risks, Sinclair still believes the media’s presence is important.

"I do believe in democracy,” he said. "People should know what’s going on in conflicts throughout the world."

Sinclair himself initially had doubts about some of the media traveling with his company. “At the end of the day if they start falling behind, they become a liability.” Sinclair related the story of a Canadian photographer to whom he lent some of his wet weather gear while their platoon was traveling in the rain.

“You gotta try and help them out as much as you can,” he said, although he noted that most of thejournalists were able to keep up and do their job effectively.

Embedded journalists see how soldiers react to situations they are put in, and how the Afghan people react to their presence. The only other option is traveling with private security, an expensive venture.

“Getting a chance to talk to the soldiers and when we do get to meet Afghans or government officials, to be a part of that is exciting and interesting,” said said CBC correspondent Derek Stoffel in a phone call from Kandahar. This is Stoffel’s fourth assignment in Afghanistan since 2006.     

Graeme Smith, a correspondent for the Globe and Mail, has experienced being embedded with the Canadian Forces first-hand. He has been to Afghanistan 16 times between 2005 and 2009.

 "I was often impressed by the soldiers I met,” said Smith. “They’re nice guys.” Covering the conflict, he added, is a crucial job for journalists. “It’s always important for the public to know how ‘the powerful’ are exercising that power, and to hold them to account.”

Stoffel feels the public needs to hear what their military is doing overseas, and how the government is spending their money. He added that while it can sometimes be difficult, telling stories about the Afghan people is instrumental in helping the public understand the situation in Afghanistan.  Being an embedded reporter does have its limitations, though.

“At the end of the day, you are telling all of your stories through the lens of the Canadian armed forces. I often say that that’s probably only three-quarters of the story,” he said.