Australian soldiers accidentally shot and killed two Afghan brothers in the Uruzgan province in late February.
The Australian government seems to have done a good job of not letting this become a huge media story by quickly claiming responsibility. Transparency by government agencies does not make for exciting news.
The story first broke on SBS WORLD NEWS. Little more than a week later there was no further mention of the story in mainstream media.
Media outlets had no incentive to publish anything beyond early reports. There was no footage relevant to the incident or even specific details to use. In many cases, ‘filler’ content was used to complete stories.
As there wasn’t a greater number of casualties, the story may not be deemed very newsworthy. Reuters’ Chief Afghanistan Correspondent, Dylan Welch says, “it was not considered significant enough an incident. Every day we have to make decisions about incidents involving the killing of women, children, whole families and while it is obviously a difficult thing to do we could not report them all.”
ABC’s 7:30 featured an interview with Federal Defence Minister, Stephen Smith.
Typically, host Leigh Sales’ questioning is tough. She asked how the boys were killed and how much compensation will be paid to their family.
Mr Smith said Australian forces in Afghanistan are highly regarded. They are following Afghan custom by paying compensation and he wants to make it clear the Australian forces have ‘smoothed things over’ with the Afghan government.
Sales’ continued with questions over whether the safety of Australian troops will be compromised.
7:30 was the only media to specifically question how the boys were killed, the amount of compensation to be paid to the family and to question how the incident would affect ground troops.
7:30 producer, Andrew Bell said that 7:30 generally did not use images in this story as they could not obtain any and 7:30 “rarely overlays this kind of interview.”
Network 10’s Sunday evening news ran a two-minute report. It used file footage of military action in Afghanistan.
Reporter John Hill’s voice over tells us about the Australian mission and what happened when the boys were shot.
This story unlike any other in the media, said troops were monitoring the Taliban via a radio network. The boys were seen listening to a radio.
We then cut to a direct comment from Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott.
Next is file footage of David Lieutenant Hurley with his quote printed on screen saying the deaths are regrettable, but an investigation is necessary.
It concludes with mention of the civilians killed by NATO troops a fortnight earlier, overlayed by footage of injured Afghans in a hospital.
Due to lack of information and footage about the incident, it was necessary to ‘fill’ this report with file footage and a comment from Tony Abbott, which didn’t add value to the story.
Reuters’ website first published the article, ‘NATO says troops kill two Afghans due to mistaken identity’ and was used verbatim by The Guardian and Huffington Post.
The first two paragraphs state that recently there have been a number of civilian deaths, causing tension between ISAF and the Afghan president. It gives few details of what happened.The following paragraphs provide information on the incident and quote ISAF commander, U.S. General Joseph Dunford.
The article is one of the few international media to mention Australia; that Australian forces are deployed in Uruzgan.
The final two paragraphs describe incidents of Afghan civilians killed by NATO actions and the consequences of those deaths.
Huffington Post includes an interactive map of Uruzgan at the top of the article. This a tool used online to provide readers with further information. It also helps to fill the webpage.
The Guardian uses a photo of an unhappy looking President Hamid Karzai. The photo in Huffington Post is of soldiers walking past a fire fighter washing blood off the ground, where a suicide attack had just happened. These photos reinforce a negative impression of the war in Afghanistan.
Reuters is a news agency that competes to sell its stories to media outlets globally and must make the hundreds of daily stories attractive for purchase. Therefore, in a story without a lot of details it lead with the conflict over civilian deaths, which is more likely to capture the attention of a wider audience.
Reuters’ Dylan Welch explains, “it is important, I think, to include information high in a story about why a particular event has broader significance. So while the deaths of two children may not in itself be (sic) a story that would be widely read globally, the fact it comes amid a series of issues regarding civilian casualties makes it of more interest to an international audience.”
Both Huffington Post and The Guardian printed editorials opposing the ongoing war and the need to review the strategy in Afghanistan.
This purchased story reinforces their stance on the issue.
Furthermore, there is the ongoing issue of news supplied by agencies threatening the diversity of news sources, and the limited opportunity to publish news relevant to different audiences.
Radio coverage was also limited. ABC’s AM aired a short story at the end of its program on March 4, 2013. File audio from an ISAF spokesman was used. The piece short on details, quickly switched focus onto civilian deaths. It features comment by a Kabul based analyst from Human Rights Watch. Her comment doesn’t add new insights, but her job title affords an authority on the topic and adds colour to an otherwise dry report.
Print media didn’t add any new angles to this story. The only time the story was printed on the front page in Melbourne was in The Australian, when rumours surfaced the boys were killed by Australian soldiers. Once this was confirmed the story was relegated to page three and beyond.
All media platforms featured 1 to 4 brief reports. All referred to ongoing tensions over civilian deaths.
Significantly, there were differences in details of the incident across the media. Such as, the age and relationship of the boys, what they were doing when they were shot, how they were killed and who was specifically involved.
This is important to note because it highlights further investigation did not occur because it was not deemed ‘newsworthy’ or exciting enough. Also sourcing news from agencies results in homogenised reporting.