Hard News by Russell Brown

74

The question of Afghanistan becomes more urgent

There has long been a gulf between what successive governments have wished us to think about New Zealand forces' work in Afghanistan and the realities of that deployment. And there have certainly been times when the official line should have been more aggressively questioned in the press.

But things have been a little different lately.  In a column following the sad news that Lance Coprorals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer had been killed and six other New Zealanders injured in an insurgent attack in Bamiyan, an area supposedly crontrolled by the our provincial reconstruction team, Vernon Small mulled the questions of "how we leave, and what we leave behind."

In a Herald column headed Deaths underline the need to get out, John Armstrong doubted Defence Force messaging and noted that what is happening on the ground is "a very long way removed from the more innocent days of the provincial reconstruction team's tenure when their role was defined in terms of building schools and hospitals - not fighting battles."

On the other hand -- and with the notable exception of the Waikato Times -- the major newspaper editorials have urged a staying of the course. In a column summarising those editorials, Bryce Edwards observed that:

With very few edits they could have been printed by those papers in the late sixties as New Zealand's involvement in Vietnam became increasingly contentious. The comparison has always been rejected by both Labour and National governments, but the similarities are growing stronger each day: pressure from the US to be - and stay - involved, the propping up of a corrupt regime, and severe doubts about the loyalty and abilities of the local army.

But it does appear that the tone of commentary was not what it was even last year, when, as he tells it in a column in the new Walkley magazine (not online, sorry) Nicky Hager's revelation of military and government "PR plans for controlling the news media" prompted "quite a few" journalists to be angry at him:

It felt like a Stockholm Syndrome, where captives of military media management were defending the military. Meanwhile the military and the minister of defence got away without having to make a single public comment.

Another angle emerged this week in Patrick Gower's scoop interview with one of the injured, Major Craig Wilson, which was swiftly picked up by other media. Gower's report strongly pushed the view that medals for valour -- posthumous in the case of Lance Corporal Malone, who rescued Major Wilson and was killed after turning back to save another comrade -- would have to be part of the accounting of the incident.

But wouldn't NZDF be quite comfortable with an emphasis on individual valour -- and the story's explicit connection with the VC-winning actions of Willie Apiata? Not at all, Patrick assured me via Twitter: they would rather manage such matters far more tightly.

The level of threat on the ground was emphasised with the news overnight that 46 people were killed in coordinated suicide attacks across Afghanistan.

We'll be discussing all this on this week's Media3. We have a Skype interview with Jon Stephenson, who runs the McClatchy bureau in Kabul, and Nicky Hager will be joining me on set.

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Also on this week's Media3: Tracy Watkins joins us to discuss Fairfax's new alliance with Ipsos, a global research company that has hitherto been relatively obscure in this country, but which has spent the past year expanding rapidly into the Asia-Pacific region. How will that change the polling game?

And Dr Grant Duncan of Massey University Albany will come in to talk about the nosiy uptick in US media rhetoric that has accompanied the announcement of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's presidential running mate.

It should be good. And if you'd like to join us for Thursday evening's recording, we'll need you at the Villa Dalmacija, 10 New North Road, Auckland (it's the brown building with a carpark in front) by 5.30pm.

If not, we'll be on your screen (potentially!) at 10.25am Saturday morning, TV3, then late on Sunday night.

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