News reporters have been sporadically attached to military units as far back as the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, but the U.S. implemented the first official and large-scale embedded program in 2003 during the Iraq War. The Canadian Forces Media Embedding Program (CFMEP) was officially implemented in 2006 during the Afghanistan War. Considerable research has been carried out on the U.S. and British embed programs and their impact on media coverage, but has been very little academic study of Canada’s CFMEP, or its impact on media coverage of the Afghanistan War. This work investigates Canadian military/media relations throughout a period of roughly 10 years during Canada’s Afghanistan mission. It examines how official procedures governing media coverage, particularly embedding policy, gave shape to the war reporting received by Canadians.
First, within the broader subject of military/media relations, this study establishes the origins of embedded reporting, and Canada’s reasons for becoming involved in the Afghanistan War. Second, it weaves together academic, official (military and government), and journalist perspectives regarding the practice and effects of embedded reporting during the Afghanistan mission. Third, it analyzes coverage by four major media organizations of Canada’s participation in the Afghanistan War during a 10 year period: from initial military contributions in 2001 through to final troop deployment in 2011. It is the latter two sections that fill a research void. Results indicate: first, continued concern with, and debate regarding, media objectivity; second, high discontent among government officials regarding embedded media coverage of diplomatic and humanitarian efforts; third, largely untapped benefits of dis-embedded reporting, a unique CFMEP component; and fourth, a discernible impact of framing due to the fundamental configuration of a military-hosted and maintained embed program. Findings demonstrate the structural influence of an embed policy negotiated by two disparate cultures: bridging the imperatives and constraints of the news media and those of the military led to an overwhelming media focus on the military, excluding diplomatic and humanitarian efforts, specifically, military excursions, injuries, deaths, and ramp ceremonies. Several policy considerations are offered, including a call for media organizations to conduct post-war debriefing sessions for embedded reporters on lessons learned.