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Monday, 5 October 2009

One thing you can say for celebrities is that they get plenty of media attention. It's not always a bad thing.

Gary Lineker and Andrew Flintoff drew the press - in this case the London Daily Mirror - into the drama of a narrow escape (I suppose you could call it that, if you were a representative of a tabloid newspaper) from a Taliban rocket (RPG?) attack while they were in Kandahar to give Pride of Britain awards (a Mirror initiative) to troops.

As the rocket(s) flew over/landed near/hit the base (we're not told), Flintoff and Lineker acquitted themselves well by "scrambling for cover under the dining room tables", the AFP wrote.

Which brings me to a tweet from @derekbarry about an hour ago at the end of the Media Watch program, which featured a long segment called 'Embedding in Afghanistan'. "Is the pursuit of a "seamless PR message" determining what we see and read about our soldiers in Afghanistan?" asks the website.

"good #mediawatch segment about the insidious australian pr state. Defence is the worst, but all depts want to "embed" journos," Derek wrote.

And I retweeted him because the amount of action provided as a result of the Flintoff/Lineker episode comes close to what embedded journalists working alongside the Australian military in Afghanistan have brought to light.

Ie not much.

The troops continue to die and get wounded, the country continues to spend money on the conflict, we continue to get footage of troops building schools and handing out lollies to ragged-looking children, but we don't see much when the bullets are flying.

The Department of Defence even asks to see segments before they go to air. On one occasion they held up a segment because the minister was still to make a related announcement in Parliament. Journalists working with the DoD are not happy.

Gary Ramadge looks unhappy as he stands outside a house where weapons had apparently been found. A sorry-looking bomb (sort of like an oversized Queensland cockroach in appearance) is then put on the screen. 'Embedded' means 'quarantined'.

"We're just waiting at the door hoping to go in and get a look at what they've found," says Ramadge plaintively, looking distinctively hot in a bullet-proof jacket and helmet.

Journalists are allowed on so few missions because the DoD fears for their safety. One wonders why it has taken so long for the case of the Balibo Five to be investigated, if the Department is so concerned about the media's wellbeing.

Footage shot by Australian journalist Stephen Dupont in 2005 shows how dangerous for the military a freelancer can be. His footage, shown tonight, shows US soldiers watching as the corpses of two dead Taliban burn in the hot sun. "Wow. Look at the blood coming out of the mouth of that one," says one of the soldiers standing near the conflagration.

But we get nothing like this now. Monash University academic Kevin Foster says that

The war is being reported in this way because the ADF want to exercise absolute control over every aspect of the news production process.

He also says that this strenuous micro-management means that the troops' sacrifices are not adequately communicated to the Australian public, on whose behalf they are fighting.

Foster says that the Australian Defence Force's Public Affairs Division "disdain the public's right to reliable, objective information".

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