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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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