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Media And Politics Essay, Research Paper

“All I Know Is What I Read In The Papers” – Will Rogers

There have been many criteria over the past few centuries that measured

one’s political clout and influence: divine right, property, money, and

acquaintances. In the twentieth century, particularly the past two decades, the

political power to influence others resides in information: the more information

you have and the more you know how to use it, the more potential influence you


People rely on the media for their information, as it is the most easily

accessible, efficient, and passive way of acquiring knowledge. Unfortunately,

the media is not completely reliable as it can and has been manipulated by

politicians, their parties, and their governments. This makes the media a

powerful weapon as politicians use it to effect voters political choices through

advertising, change popular opinion on issues of state, and debasing political

campaigns through smear tactics.

“You can make a candidate someone they aren’t. You can protect them

from someone they are, or make them more of what they are”.-Senator Norm


“An election is like a one day sale?the product (candidate) in a sale

(campaign) is only available a few hours on one day”.(2)

The main goal one hopes to achieve by advertising something is to make

it marketable so people will purchase it. Since what a politician hopes to

ultimately do is persuade people to vote for, or buy, their political platform,

they would be foolish to not take advantage of the captive and passive audience

of the advertising mass media. Unfortunately politicians and their management

take advantage of this medium to manipulate voters’ choices. Two cases of

advertising manipulation on voters was during the Canadian National Referendum

of 1992 and the Quebec Referendum of 1995. During the National Referendum of

1992 over the Charlottetown Accord “three hours of free broadcast time was made

available during prime time on every radio and television network that met the

statutory criteria”(3) according to the Referendum Act. The act also states

that “half (of the time) is allocated to the ?Yes’ and half to the ?No’ side”(4).

This allotment of advertising time did not take into account the print

advertisement that was plastered all over the daily and weekly news periodicals

calling for people to vote for their side. In the Toronto Star all the month

of October the “Yes” campaign, fronted by Brian Mulroney, took out ads that had

powerful bylines printed in bold type like this one of October 17: “Vote Yes

for Canada’s Future”(5). This statement is an attempt to manipulate not only

the voter who will take the time to read the reasons in smaller print, but also

the voter who only glances through the paper as their attention is caught, even

if it is only for a second, to the bold type and the powerful finality of the


These are examples of direct use of advertisement to sway voters’

decisions. There is a more indirect method as well where politicians use the

news media to try to convey their message and hope the news will air or print it.

During the National Referendum campaign the “No” side relied on this factor

more than the “Yes” side did. In a Globe and Mail article before the vote, the

reporter regurgitated what Judy Rebick had said about the “Yes” side being “top-

heavy with politicians, government types, and opinion leaders”(6), and how the

public respects the “No” side as it is “something that comes from the


Similar to the National Referendum, the Quebec Referendum also followed

the same guidelines set out by the Referendum Act concerning media advertising

allotment. The only difference was that the advertisement was localized to

Quebec only. As with the 1992 Referendum the local periodicals in Quebec were

littered with advertisements for votes: in Quebec’s French-language newspapers

“the federal government took out full-page ads”(8) which stated “in huge bold

letters?NUMBERS DON’T LIE and goes on to explain how Quebec?will receive 31 per

cent of all federal transfer payments”(10). This ad was meant to persuade

Quebec citizens to vote no as Canada is very generous to them.

Politicians in Quebec also took advantage of the indirect media

advertising when they recited political rhetoric to reporters hoping it will be


Pierre Paradis , Liberal House Leader, said the poll numbers

suggest that the No side’s message that separation is the real

issue is getting through to the public. “The more the stakes

become clear?the more people will be inclined to say No”(11).

This statement by the Liberal House leader works just as well as a paid

advertisement as a result of it being short, concise, and the main messages are

clear: separation is the real issue and the clear person, that is to say the

person with clarity of mind, will vote no.

“Corruption may then be seen as just one of the many ways a

person can persuade someone who exercises public authority

so long as the power-holder acts within the rules”.(12)

Not all politicians in power try to corrupt others through the media, as the

quotation may suggest, but politicians have used the media to influence, change,

or even confuse peoples’ views on issues of state. This trend goes as far back

as Nazi Germany when the streets of Germany were littered with propaganda

posters and literature condemning other countries and their ideologies, for

instance: (found below a poster of a massive skeletal Bolshevik soldier) “Only

one man can save us from the monster of Bolshevism-Adolf Hitler!”(13).

Propaganda has always been an affective form of manipulation and has stood the

test of time but there are other forms of media manipulation that have altered

viewpoints. The time that preceded world war two in Canada the issue of

conscription was a very volatile issue which Prime Minister Mackenzie King

endeavored to deal with a referendum. Barring the result of the referendum,

Mackenzie King new he would have support on any decision he made as most

periodicals knew whom they had to aid during the war. In a letter from J.W.

Dafoe, editor in chief of the Winnipeg Free Press, to George Ferguson the

editor of the news room , Dafoe clearly states, in regard to Mackenzie King’s

“conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription” policy:

Of course, the coming of the war will change the [approach to]

the editorial page?unless something happens that we simply

cannot stand, our business will be to go along with the

government and help them out in every possible way by

explanations, intelligent publicity and so forth.(14)

Mackenzie King’s government were confident that no matter the outcome of the war

or the conscription issue the media would support their decision, and since

print news and radio were the only information medium of the time, the content

was easily controlled. Since conscription was passed and very little resistance

was put forth by opposition, it must be concluded that the media was

successfully controlled in favor of Mackenzie King’s government and the reality

of conscription was taken easier by the public.

A more recent use of the media to change people’s minds was immediately

after the Quebec referendum when the federal government cabinet team was put

together to “fulfill the promise made by Mr. Cretien at the massive Montreal No

rally”(15-). This cabinet team “sprung out of sudden haste”(16) and its airy

“mandate is to try and give recommendations to the Prime Minister?on all the

possibilities for change in the union”(17). The lack of real direction and

purpose in the mandate of this team suggests that its emergence was to assure

the public that the government is still in control and has alternate plans to

deal with the problem. The reality is that there can be no control over

something that the government only has a half say in, there is no control on the

side of Quebec because the Parti Quebecois has political power at this time.

“Oh Lord, teach us to utter words that are gentle and tender

because tomorrow we may have to eat them”(18)

Nothing is more vulgar, heated, or viscous than a political campaign. It does

not matter how good one’s intentions are, it is inevitable that a politician

will make personal attacks on their opponents, and reduce the race to a battle

of smear campaigns. Similar to political advertising, politicians rely on the

media, both personal direct advertisement and indirect advertisement through

journalist news reporting. In the recent past the most controversial media

smear tactic was during the last federal election when Kim Campbell made a an

advertisement criticizing Jean Cretien’s physical disability. It was a

collection of people commenting on how embarrassing it would be if he were to be

Prime Minister due to the paralysis on the left side of his mouth. Ultimately

this tactic failed and in turn Jean Cretien used the bad publicity that Campbell

brought on herself to portray her as petty and desperate.

In a more recent paradine, the Quebec Referendum was also a forum for

bashing the opponent both directly through campaign advertisement and indirect

free exposure through the news. The No side malignantly condemned Mr.

Bouchard’s “campaign slip when he spoke of the ?white race’ in Quebec and its

low birth rate”(19) . To make the matter worse, the Liberals “also found fodder

in?Jaques Parizeau blaming money and the ethnic vote”(20) for the Bloc’s loss in

the referendum. The response of the Parti Quebecois and the Bloc was to resort

to the same tactics by “accusing the No side of overspending and other illegal

acts? and perhaps costing the sovereigntists a victory”.(21)

Another verbal thrashing Mr, Bouchard took came at the hands of ex-Prime

Minister Pierre Truedeau. Bouchard sarcastically alluded to the constitution

matter of 1982 and implied Truedeau was a liar; “when talking about the

distortion of Quebec history, Pierre Truedeau is certainly an expert in that

matter”(22). Truedeau floored Bouchard by saying that “the federalists would

have done better in the recent Quebec referendum “(23) if the Yes side didn’t

“make Quebeckers, especially former premier Rene”Levesque, look like


Politics is a very dirty game, and if you don’t develop a thick skin to

deal with the rhetoric then you will not survive the smear campaigns.

“I fear three newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets”(25)

The mass media in all its manifestations has a mandate to be a forum

for views both directly and indirectly through advertising and journalist

reporting, This massive forum has been the place, for many years, that

politicians have had their voice. Like many other institutions, the mass media

has been utilized as a tool of the political world with which politicians, their

parties, and their governments capture the fixated and passive audience, thus

making the media a powerful device to affect voters political choices through

advertising, change popular opinion on issues of state, and debasing political

campaigns with smear tactics.

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