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Did CF Drop PR Ball Here?

The Bread Guy

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Yes, I know there's history and polarized opinions re:  the writer involved.  No, this is not a troll - think of this as a case study.

Speaking as a professional communciator, a former reporter and a former soldier, I think an opportunity was missed here.  Even when you do the risk assessment of the agenda of the advocacy members of the group, I think the reporter in question should have been allowed to shoot the scene and maybe share it with the world.  No guarantees, but that's also the case with embeds, no? 

As a public servant myself, I know the idea of "if in doubt, follow the letter of the rule", but even I get a touch of latitude if there's a chance of decent coverage.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has more info that can be shared (given OPSEC and usual considerations) to give, as Paul Harvey says, the REST of the story....

Shared in accordance with the "fair dealing" provisions, Section 29, of the Copyright Act.

Military passes on touching photo op
SCOTT TAYLOR, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 29 Jan 07
Article Link

IT WAS A VERY touching scene, the sort that public relations teams only dream of: Two Canadian army medics were attending to an injured Afghan infant as his father thanked them profusely.

The previous evening, the young boy had scalded his feet when he upset a pot of boiling water. With no other access to medical attention, the father put his son in a wheelbarrow and brought him to the one place he knew he could get help — the Canadian outpost on the edge of the Panjwaii district.

The medics cleaned the boy’s burns and applied antibiotic ointments while the father nodded his head muttering, "Teshekura" ("Thank you") over and over again. Once the treatment was complete, the beaming Afghan man happily wheeled away his son back toward their village.

Unfortunately, for a Canadian military hard-pressed to win a "hearts and minds" campaign both in Kandahar and at home in Canada, this success story was not captured on film. Not because the media didn’t take the risk to get out and get the story (we did), but because the military brass ordered us not to film the event. That’s right, folks, we were told not to film Canadian soldiers administering first aid to an Afghan child.

The saga started at about 10 a.m. last Tuesday, when we had pulled up in front of Fort Wilson — a Canadian forward operating base — and dismounted from our vehicles. Leaving our Afghan security detachment and our personal weapons behind, five of us advanced on foot to the front gate.

As we approached, two young soldiers and a warrant officer greeted us cordially. Despite the fact that our arrival was unannounced and that we were dressed as local Afghans (complete with Pashtun-style beards), the senior NCO recognized me. "Hey, I just finished reading your (Chronicle Herald) column online," he said.

The warrant officer also recognized my companions from their previous visits to Fort Wilson. Our group consisted of Norine MacDonald, the Canadian founder of the Senlis Council, a civilian non-governmental organization that is based in downtown Kandahar; fellow Canadian Ed McCormick, a paramedic for the council; and two South African security consultants.

Our intention had been to visit the Canadian camp and chat with the soldiers, but when we saw the first aid scene being played out right in front of us, we asked for permission to film.

"I’ll check with the base," said the warrant officer, disappearing behind the barricades. When he reappeared a few minutes later, he was shaking his head. "Sorry folks, it’s a no-go. We checked with the public affairs office at (Kandahar airfield) and they said that since you’re not embedded, you get no access."

When I explained the public affairs officers not only knew I was in Kandahar but were going to embed me that evening, it didn’t change a thing. "Get yourself embedded, get them to organize a military convoy, come on back out here and I’ll be happy to let you film," he said. "But right now I have to ask you to leave these premises."

There will undoubtedly be the usual tub-thumping Colonel Blimps who will support this narrow, by-the-book approach to media control. "What? Can’t have journalists just running around collecting news on their own. Not cricket, old boy." But in this case, a little context might help.

Back in December I advised army commander Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie of my intention to make an unembedded visit to Kandahar to assess the situation from the Afghan perspective. He suggested that, if possible, I should get onto the Kandahar base to record the accomplishments of our troops.

En route through Kabul I interviewed Canadian personnel and upon arriving in Kandahar, I was in phone contact with public affairs officers at the airfield. They were aware that I was "outside the wire" and fully intended to sign my embed agreement later that same night.

Of course, the dangers of travelling on roads in the Kandahar district have been amply illustrated by the level of casualties sustained by our troops over the past year. That being said, an inconspicuous civilian motorcade (such as ours) would attract far less attention than a military convoy.

In this case, the thought of travelling to the Kandahar airfield, processing the embedding paperwork and organizing a patrol back to Fort Wilson to record an incident that had already concluded was absurd.

If army personnel seriously intend to get "good news" stories out, they must start trusting their instincts. There is nothing operationally secret about medics treating Afghans.

The "no-news-is-good-news" mentality of the public affairs branch runs counter to the stated policy of the top brass. Yet it’s alive and well at the base in Kandahar.

( staylor@herald.ca)
 

vonGarvin

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I don't think that an opportunity was lost.  That man undoubtedely told his friends/family what happened.  And they told two friends, and so on.  Word of mouth is the best advertising going.  Also lost on the author from the "Halifax Herald" is that this man knew where to go already.  Any photos would have been for OUR consumption: not the locals.  Apparently the word is out that we are there to help.
 

Ex-Dragoon

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The saga started at about 10 a.m. last Tuesday, when we had pulled up in front of Fort Wilson — a Canadian forward operating base — and dismounted from our vehicles. Leaving our Afghan security detachment and our personal weapons behind, five of us advanced on foot to the front gate.

So let me get this straight...these 5 people are armed as well?
 

Good2Golf

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Hauptmann Scharlachrot said:
I don't think that an opportunity was lost.  That man undoubtedely told his friends/family what happened.  And they told two friends, and so on.  Word of mouth is the best advertising going.  Also lost on the author from the "Halifax Herald" is that this man knew where to go already.  Any photos would have been for OUR consumption: not the locals.  Apparently the word is out that we are there to help.

+1    Exactly!  Heart and minds of the Afghans is more important that padding a reporter's ego for "capturing the moment"...
 

vonGarvin

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Good2Golf said:
+1    Exactly!  Heart and minds of the Afghans is more important that padding a reporter's ego for "capturing the moment"...
Especially for those with "Pashtun Beards" ;)
 

The Bread Guy

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Agreed that word of mouth is good for the local audience (notwithstanding Info Ops to reinforce messaging), but I think the Afghans aren't the only relevant target audience here.

I read a lot of traffic on these forums saying, "why don't we ever see the CF's good deeds in the paper/on TV?" How does the Canadian public learn about this stuff so they can better understand the mission?  Word of mouth?  Even if every soldier who's been tells a dozen people about the good work, I don't think the Canadian public, as a group, will get educated in any significant (numerically, NOT qualitatively) way.
 

George Wallace

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Would it have made you happy if this reporter had got his pictures?  He has printed the story.  Even though he reported that members of the CF were doing 'Good Deeds' to aid the Afghan population, he still took it upon himself to SLAM the CF hierarchy.  Why?  He is just like that.  He would have SLAMMED the CF, with or without the photos.
 

MJP

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Good2Golf said:
+1    Exactly!  Heart and minds of the Afghans is more important that padding a reporter's ego for "capturing the moment"...

That's fine for Afghanistan and that certain area.  For once I agree with Scott Taylor "shudder", for a mission that is having a hard time selling its self here in Canada, this is exactly the kind of story the Candian public wants to and needs to see.  I think we can all agree that the fighting and doom and gloom stories far outweigh the good ones coming from Afghanistan.

Ex-Dragoon said:
So let me get this straight...these 5 people are armed as well?

Everyone is armed over there.  You would have to be crazy to be western and not either have a weapon or some sort of protective service providing security for you.  Many have both and most of the NGOs out there do it, wether it be afghans security or hired PSD folks.
 

vonGarvin

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MJP said:
For once I agree with Scott Taylor "shudder"

Do you need a shower? ;D


But, seriously, you make a good point.  Still.....  ;)
 

The Bread Guy

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Ex-Dragoon said:
So let me get this straight...these 5 people are armed as well?

Could be, but another interpretation could be that the S.African security dudes left their weapons behind.

George Wallace said:
Would it have made you happy if this reporter had got his pictures?  He has printed the story.  Even though he reported that members of the CF were doing 'Good Deeds' to aid the Afghan population, he still took it upon himself to SLAM the CF hierarchy.  Why?  He is just like that.  He would have SLAMMED the CF, with or without the photos.

Point taken - some reporters will slag institutions no matter what they're told.  I still speak to reporters who I know won't be sympathetic to my side because if you don't get it out there, nobody else will.  As it stands, there's a slag out there, without even the potential of any counterbalance with some good news.

 
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I agree with milnewstbay.  

Look past the "ego padding" comment and the history of the reporter involved, then look at the internal centre of gravity we must be concerned with, the fickle public and political opinions that ultimately gives us our orders.  More pictures of Leopard tanks rolling around the countryside and LAV IIIs bristling with weapons are good for this crowd here, but consider the fence-sitting majority, who may be swayed by the Left's strident and plaintive arguments about the "Canadian Occupation of Afghanistan".  What better way to discount the misinformation out there, to show the other side of those wearing AR CADPAT than to have a non-embedded, known critic trumpet a story about soldiers doing good deeds in Afghanistan.  It takes the wind out of the sails of a number of their arguments.

Hearts and minds of the Afghans is a good objective in theatre.  However it is far less important to us than the management of public perception back here if we want to be permitted to continue to operate over there as we have been.  Afghan votes do not elect Canadian MPs.  Afghan resident goodwill is a fleeting and intangible concept that cannot be made visual in a media scrum or House of Commons debate.

We need to consider the full spectrum of targets for our information as stated above.
 

Ex-Dragoon

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Thanks MJP I did not realize that even Canadian civillians were armed as well....interesting tidbit of info.
 

Good2Golf

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MJP, I don't at all dispute that Canadians need some of the good news too.  I take any opportunity I can get to present to Canadians my experiences and the information provided to us through OP CONNECTION resources and the PA's "Speaker's Corner" information site.  The reporter's story, while it does tangentially address the goodness of the situation, appears to focus on more the failings of the process...although there were a number of different processes that the reporter put at odds -- benefit of the doubt to him that it was inadvertant...

I take issue with the reporter's inconsistencies.  He wants to be un-embedded...then he wants the "perks" of embedded reportership, but he doesn't want to travel from downtown out to the base, but then he's not happy with not being allowed the same access as the embedded reporters.....please, spare us...pick a set of rules (embedded or non-embedded) and play by them.

...Of course, the dangers of travelling on roads in the Kandahar district have been amply illustrated by the level of casualties sustained by our troops over the past year. That being said, an inconspicuous civilian motorcade (such as ours) would attract far less attention than a military convoy.

In this case, the thought of travelling to the Kandahar airfield, processing the embedding paperwork and organizing a patrol back to Fort Wilson to record an incident that had already concluded was absurd...
 ::)
 

The Bread Guy

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Good2Golf said:
I take issue with the reporter's inconsistencies.  He wants to be un-embedded...then he wants the "perks" of embedded reportership, but he doesn't want to travel from downtown out to the base, but then he's not happy with not being allowed the same access as the embedded reporters.....please, spare us...pick a set of rules (embedded or non-embedded) and play by them.  ::)

HUGELY frustrating in my work, too, but I guess which principle do we follow (and yes, I know it's never this black and white, but let's keep the good debate/content going here):

1)  follow all the rules to the letter, even if it misses the chance to get some good news out, or
2)  give someone the chance to get some good news out, even if it's not within the letter of the rules (is the "spirit" of the rules to get news out while keeping everyone safe and OPSEC secured?)

To me, as much as it makes me grit my bureaucratic teeth, I'm leaning towards 2....
 

Michael OLeary

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I do wonder what his reaction would have been if he had been embedded with the organization, but not there at the time of the incident, and then was "scooped" by an unembedded reporter who happened by and was given full access.
 

MJP

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Oh don't get me wrong G2G.....I don't like his tone regarding military hierarchy.  Scott Taylor wants his cake and eat it too, always has always will.  Can't change that.  However, the story regarding the Afghan boy would have been a welcome aside to the constant doom and gloom articles.  Opportunities like that should be jumped on immediately and used for all they are worth.
 

Good2Golf

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Hearts and minds of the Afghans is a good objective in theatre.  However it is far less important to us than the management of public perception back here if we want to be permitted to continue to operate over there as we have been.   Afghan votes do not elect Canadian MPs.  Afghan resident goodwill is a fleeting and intangible concept that cannot be made visual in a media scrum or House of Commons debate.

We need to consider the full spectrum of targets for our information as stated above.

Respectfully, I must strongly disagree with you.  So long as we stay in theatre, that is what counts.  This idea of managing (feeding?) public perception, aside from partially being a necessary part of keeping us there, does much to continue the propagation of Canadians love to feel good about themselves, even if at the cost of actually achieving anything susbtantive.  Personally, public perception (in great part affected by the MSP and the manner in which it protrays contemporary issues) is actually secondary in my opinion to actually improving Aghans' lot in life.  Maybe I'm missing something here, but I stand by my impression of the subject story and my take on it.

G2G
 

The Bread Guy

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Michael O'Leary said:
I do wonder what his reaction would have been if he had been embedded with the organization, but not there at the time of the incident, and then was "scooped" by an unembedded reporter who happened by and was given full access.

This goes to Good2Golf's legit frustration over "which rules do you follow?"  I'm guessing PAffO's sometimes have to play, "you snooze, you lose" with reporters who have to do triage on their coverage opportunities, no?

I haven't seen a CF embed agreement - does it promise EXCLUSIVE access to CF ops only to embeds, or something looser than that?  I'd appreciate education on that front from anyone familiar who's reading....
 

Good2Golf

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MJP said:
Oh don't get me wrong G2G.....I don't like his tone regarding military hierarchy.  Scott Taylor wants his cake and eat it too, always has always will.  Can't change that.  However, the story regarding the Afghan boy would have been a welcome aside to the constant doom and gloom articles.  Opportunities like that should be jumped on immediately and used for all they are worth.

Roger, MJP.  I agree. 

I'd like to see more perspective on the PRT and the other elements of 3-D going on out there.  The Battle Group is what, 600-700 soldiers...out of 2300?  What about seeing more stories in the MSP about what the other 1600-1700 CF members are doing?  That, I'd like to see more of!

G2G
 

Fishbone Jones

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Read the article again. It's not about an Afghan child and our good PR. That's nothing more than a hook to explain his righteous indignation. It's all about him.......again. It's about what a great reporter ST is claiming to be. Unembbeded, getting the real story, name dropping 'Look at me, I have guns, I'm a tough guy too'. It's the same modus operendi as that other 'journalist' Geraldo Rivera, who is persona non grata with the US military for good reason. ST commands about as much respect from true news seekers, as this US counterpart. And his travelling companions, the Senlis Council? We all remember them, and their view of us, from a couple of months back. ST and friends seem to have gone there for one reason only. To slag the military and it's hierarchy. Good on the soldiers for not being intimidated by ST and his name dropping bully boy ways. Good on the PAFFO for following the rules. After this self serving PR stunt, I'd never allow ST access to a military establishment again. That's just my opinion and my 2 afgahnis worth. Now I have to go get deloused.
 
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