Mao ZeDong once said that power comes out of the barrel of a gun. While that is still true, power also comes out of the manipulated images created to change ones thinking process and behaviour. Through the world of third person communication, technologies have generated various types of media. This paper will be discussing the effects and influential powers exercised by media in Canadian elections. During this complex process, understanding the brief history of media organizations as well as some information on Canada will provide a steppingstone for a deeper knowledge of the concepts and practices.
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Practically, in every attitude of the election campaign will engage the media. In fact, media is the ultimate platform where all political parties will be fighting on. Whether by budging through television and news reports or by purchasing time and space on mass media, parties must always use media to hype voters for support. Media organizations have their own agenda. They tend to sell themselves to the audiences with their star reporters, journalists, and as much as they can cover over the course of election. Inevitably, news will be discriminately selected, stories will be twisted, and they will be promoted with personal views and reactions. Mass media, therefore, will have powerful influences on voters.
Canada, the country with the highest per capita immigration rate in the world, is far more familiar to multiculturalism than any other countries. Citizens are more social and less religious, while at the same time, keeping less class oriented and less partisan, than Americans who are more troubled by racial issues. As stated by Ian McAllister: “Partisan dealignment implies that fewer voters begin the election cycle with such predisposition, making them more susceptible to the short-term issues and themes of the campaign.” In other words, Canadians tend to have less political attachments and therefore consumers have greater effects on broadcast media.
First Canadian media is the invention of newspaper. It is developed in the eighteenth century as gazettes. The official publications at that time are restricted only to edicts and laws, and some news from the home country; editorial materials are highly prohibited. Reporters are often beaten, threatened or jailed by the authorities. Until 1820s and 1830s, after William Lyon Mackenzie and Joseph Howe have fought and won the important court battle on in the area of publications materials, the right to publish freely can finally be ensured.
Since then, various types of media have surfaced within citizens’ lives. Consumers are able to acquire contents that can be accessed through newspaper, television, radio, magazine, video product, or the internet. A new market has been innovated. Yet, the ownership of this new product remains in relatively few hands. These privately owned corporations, controlled by very wealthy people, dominate the Canadian media business. The effects are quite obvious, as Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky state: ‘they are closely interlocked, and have important common interest with other major corporations, banks and government.’ Reporters keep close contact with the government as they could be benefited greatly from these close relationships. They could boost their popularity and influential ratings, as they were often given important scoops and leads, and they were known to have key connections to important backstage information.
In the recent years of Canadian newspaper industries, some of the most significant changes were that the family-owned newspaper sold to newspaper chains owned by large business organizations. While reducing the production cost, newspapers became within reach of ordinary people, whereas, in the nineteenth century, newspapers were relatively expensive and available only to the elites. One of the biggest newspaper companies, Canwest, now under the control of Shaw Media, owns thirteen newspapers in Canada, which together control over thirty percent of Canada’s newspapers circulation. Another large communications company is Sun Media, which issues thirty six different newspapers, making it the most number of papers per company. The two companies cover up to fifty one percent of the total number of newspaper and take over fifty-four percent of Canada’s total newspapers circulation, thus, creating a concentrated ownership. With dominate powers; these two companies are in much lesser competition forces. They will feel unnecessary needs on the range of media information than do the need to make profits and the organizational structure of news-gathering and reporting. As a result, concentrated ownership is seen as limiting the range of ideas and information that reach the public.
The limitation on the range of ideas and information was further explained by Walter Lippman who first proposed that “the function of news is to signalize an event.” The concept can be understood more in details by the argument made by Bernard Cohen after his research during the 1960s, “The press is significantly more than a purveyor of information and opinion, it may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.” During the elections of 1988, as one of the major campaign themes, the New Democratic Party (NDP) constructed the following message (audio): “The job is hard work. I love it and I’m good at but Canada’s good Medicare is being threatened by the Mulroney free trade deal. In the United States I’ve seen whole families wiped out by one illness. We can’t let that happen here in Canada. The New Democrats started Medicare and I know I can trust Ed Broadbent to fight for it. This time, Ed Broadbent.” The short commercial, highlighting a nurse’s fear on the health care system of Canada, have created the NDP’s most successful election in the history, a 20.4 percent of votes with 43 district seats in the House of Commons.
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Media plays a role in social learning. The first appearance of this effect can be extracted from the World War I; when tens of millions of people being entertained, and influenced by the latest Hollywood films, and when large numbers of population were being subjugated and manipulated by the propagandas created by Hitler and Stalin. The first research on such effects was conducted in 1920s and 1930s, and sometimes called the “magic bullet theory.” The hypothesis behind was that “media images could directly penetrate people’s conscious and unconscious thoughts.” In a study of 1,800 children and adolescents, Herbert Blumer concluded that when his subjects saw behaviours of the actors in the films that were beyond their own experiences, subjects’ behaviours were altered primarily based on what they had been seen at the movies. To be effective and influential, political parties must find consistent association between media viewing and an increase in changing behaviour.
Effective broadcast of media is like the shadow striker; it hits the viewer anonymously. Agenda-setting and priming can be adopted for an effective broadcast to influence viewers. Various researches on agenda-setting involved relationship between the priorities on a particular issue set by the media and by the public. McCombs whom first started researches on agenda setting noted that “the media influence what people believe before they reach a decision, particularly and election decision.” If candidate is able to lead voters to a realization on a particular issue, and set it to top priority, then they may have an effective advantage. With a condition that the voter is not a partisan, in which something Canada tends to have less of. Priming the audience is identified by Iyengar and Kinder as a phenomenon that they described as “by calling attention to some matters while ignoring others, television news influences the standards by which governments, presidents, policies, and candidates for public office are judged.” If the television news broadcast the environmental issues over a significant time period as lead items, then environmental issues will be the deciding factors to the government for viewers. When it comes to television advertising, these techniques can be very effective.
Another important finding on media effect is the role of repeated messages which was studied by Rothschild and Ray(1974). In an experiment using short ads about candidates, 20 percent of the subjects remembered the candidates after the message had been presented once; 55 percent of the subjects could name the candidates after it had been presented six times. The experience can be summarized into; “message repetition is an important factor in familiarizing voters with candidates and issues.”
In Canada, the current election laws give the governing party enormous advantage in the media campaign. During each election campaign, each broadcaster must have a certain amount of minutes made available for political parties to purchase for advertising based “on the number of seats that each party has in the House of Commons, the percentage of the vote in the last election, and the number of each party candidates running for election.” In 2008 election campaign, 396 minutes in total were allocated; the governing party, the Conservative Party, had 95.5 minutes, the runner up, the Liberal Party, had 82.5 minutes, and the New Democracy Party only had 45 minutes. The result of the 2008 election was the Conservative Party won 143 seats with 37.6 percent in vote, the Liberal Party has 77 seats with 26.2 percent in vote, and the New Democracy Party has 37 seats with 18.2 percent in vote.In concept, with the datatand advertisers at least as much as they cover the election.
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