The Challenge for Independent Defense Journalism


2015/09/18 By Chris MacLean


In a thought-provoking commentary in this edition of Front Line Defence, retired Major-General Doug Dempster talks about the importance of “quality” as an equal, if not the most important, piece of the defence procurement puzzle. His comments bring to mind the challenges faced by media publishers.

Defence and security executives claim to value independent, quality journalism with integrity. FrontLine does too. But trade magazines are very much tied to the industrial sector they cover. Should these publications offer value other than promotional advocacy? FrontLine aspires to.

The defence and security industry is keeping a close eye on the bottom line.

Boards of directors require that companies reduce costs and increase profit. But, is an essential element – the responsibility to inform – escaping their attention? Some increasingly vocal Canadians oppose any expenditure on defence and security. This opposition resonates strongly as we endure a recession and high levels of unemployment. Government and the public must heed economic concerns, but has the right balance between safety and prosperity been achieved?

The responsibility to inform the public (who ultimately pay for the materials and services that our military, policing and security services need to meet their mandates) and decision-makers (who implement the will of the people) must be shared among a number of participants. The mandate of public employees (including members of the CAF, RCMP, CCG, and CBSA) stops well short of advocacy.

Therefore, the defence and security industry, in partnership with its trade publications and its associated writers, analysts and commentators, must step up. If elected officials hear only from those who believe that evil can be quelled by ignoring it, government decision-makers may have no choice but to accede to their demands, resulting in weakened global, national and local security.

Declining support for the non-partisan, unbiased influence of defence and security publications such as FrontLine is therefore troubling.

The biggest danger to integrity in media is posed by those who advocate the reduction of advertising (which funds the independent voice) while inundating publishers with non-paid promotional content.

Increasingly, the defence and security sector is abandoning advertising campaigns in its trade publications in favour of “encouraging” the publishers themselves to cover the costs of broadcasting press releases and other company marketing materials.

A few months ago, we received an email: “Please cancel our advertising orders for the balance of the year,” it said, unconcerned that a writer’s pay cheque had just been jeopardized. That same agency continues to send its latest so-called “news-worthy” texts, which they would dearly like us to disseminate – at our own expense.

Let’s look at the simple expense of support for trade publications (as a forum for respected commentaries, researched and authoritative analyses, and articles that deftly weave in the all-important context) and compare it to the financial fallout associated with another long period of dearth, deficiency and denial. Which is costlier?

Our readers expect us to maintain a stable of independent writers and analysts that give key topics the exposure necessary to influence change. Is advertising revenue tied to publication and quality writing? You bet.

Does objectivity and integrity matter, or are industry choices contributing to the widespread demise of government transparency that can best be battled by the media (especially when they can afford skillful and informed writers)?

FrontLine will continue its mandate to publish high-quality, well-researched articles. Will industry recognize the value of independent commentary and analyses enough to support such effort on its behalf? You decide.

Editor’s Note: This piece was republished with permission of our Canadian partner Front Line Defence.