Prime Minister Harper has declared that the media will not have access to Canadian war casulaties as they come home from Afghanistan:
The Conservative government vigorously defended its decision to block public images of Canadian war casualties arriving at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario, insisting yesterday the privacy of relatives greeting the returning coffins trumped the right of media to record their arrival. “It is not about photo ops and media coverage. It is about what is in the best interest of the families,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in the House of Commons. He added the government’s priority is to “do everything possible” to assist grieving families.
This is the latest in a series of decisions the Conversavtive government has taken to reduce media access to government activities. It’s a puzzling development, considering their emphasis on transparency during the campaign. Obviously, this decision is politically advantageous, as it will reduce the impact on the public of the military action and cost in Afghanistan.
I have mixed feelings about this issue. In part, that’s because I’ve read diverging opinions from military families. The article I cite above presents one such opinion, and a soldier in Kandahar commenting on Stephen Taylor’s site has another. Stephen, by the way, sounds a little paranoid about the news coverage of this incident.
After thinking about it, and talking with a couple of people, here’s what I’ve got. Joining the Canadian military and fighting abroad are public acts. When you join the military, you know you might fight, and that your actions (and, to be grim, your death) might be reported by the media.
More importantly, the public owns the plane, airfield and infrastructure where the return of our war dead takes place. We deserve access to that site if we want it. Lastly, I value freedom of the press.
I would apply an entirely different criteria to the burial of a soldier. That’s a private event, occurring on private property, and the media ought to respect that. In a way, the flag-draped coffin is the last service a solider does for their country. As the soldier comments on Stephen’s blog writes: “There is only one reason to want to see coffins on TV. And that is for political or ideological reasons. None other.”
Obviously this issue has been inflated because it concerns the media, but I’ve got to take their side on this one.