Some elements of the media have covered themselves in shame these past few days, dishonouring the memory of Corporal Anthony Boneca by giving undue prominence to controversial quotes, and now insinuating that vast numbers of soldiers are going Absent Without Authority (AWA) since the mission to Afghanistan has "ramped up" in Kandahar.
What is missing from these headlines and statements is context, readily available by making only a few phone calls, a bit of research at the file library, or a bit of thinking. Any journalist worthy of the title would have discovered that all service members, both Regular and Reserve, are volunteers. The same journalist would discover that Reserve soldiers additionally volunteer to go on a specific tour, and join their fellows in the task force for a six-month period of intensive training covering all aspects of the mission from fighting in narrow alleyways to administering first aid.
Journalists and editors would discover, through looking at files and public records that Canadian troops have been participating in combat operations in Afghanistan since 2002. They would have discovered, looking at those files and the public record, that the military chain of command, from the Governor General (the Commander in Chief) down to the Sergeants and Master Corporals, have constantly stressed the difficulty and potential dangers of the mission since 2002. Several Prime Ministers and Ministers of Defence have also repeatedly stated the difficulties and dangers that our troops may face in theatre to both the serving members and the public at large.
The Sun recently reported in their article entitled AWOL Canucks have doubled, by Kathleen Harris, that the CF has experienced an increase in "Absent Without Authority" charges, and that the increase was indicative of wider morale problems within the military. The media’s "analysis" of the absent without authority statistics included a typically ill-informed and inaccurate comment from Steven Staples of the Polaris Institute. Mr. Staple’s agenda should be obvious to anyone who had taken a moment to research the aims of the institute for which he speaks. The aim of Mr. Staples and the organizations he represents is the effective disarmament of Canada by transforming the Canadian Armed Forces into something it has never been - a lightly equipped all peacekeeping force. Such a force would have no realistic means to assert the necessary practical aspects of an independent Canadian foreign policy in a world of increasing violence brought on in large measure by a hyper-escalation in religious extremism in the Middle East and Asia. The Polaris Institute aligns itself with a left-wing social policy and is an activist organization with virtually no credentials in the realm of defence policy. It is really just yet another "peace" group, yet not surprisingly it is dutifully sought out and quoted by an equally ill-informed and activist press.
Journalists and editors may claim they are not biased. They may claim they are not working to further a political agenda. However, far too many in the media routinely fail to conduct elementary background research, to take the five minutes necessary to use Google or even a simple telephone call to provide proper context.
In this situation, after the Canadian Forces have occupied the limelight for four years, how can thoughtful people both inside and outside of the military, not start to question the apparent bias of some media outlets? If the media is not biased then we can only conclude that it is totally disinterested in truth when facts interfere with sensationalism, controversy and profits. In either case the media does a disservice to Canadians.