Apr 3, 2011

It's Time to Curtail Unregulated and Unbridled Political Advertising

It's not hard to discern the extreme political bias during this election in content produced by the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and certain portions of CTV and CBC broadcasts. This is what I call "soft advertising". It's unregulated, unbridled, and it clearly benefits a particular political party or set of parties.

Conversely, it disadvantages one or more parties. This election it's the Liberal Party that is a huge benefactor ... yet it's not seen or chargeable as an advertising expense to political parties.

Considering that the major media outlets are effectively cross-Canada "chains", and end up conveying the same content (message) to a broad Canadian audience, a great proportion of the electorate is being influenced by this form of political advertising. Worse still, the average reader/viewer of this content may not be aware that this content is designed to shape your view of a political party ... the exactly purpose of paid political advertising.

It's time something was done to prevent big media and corporations from trying to affect the outcome of our political processes, and here's what I believe should be done about it by the next government that comes to power. Needless to say, the holes that media companies drive through these days to promote their preferred party are huge, so it seems to me that the remedies must be necessarily broad to address these election-regulating deficiencies.

  1. Revised or amplified rules should apply to by-elections, general elections, and referenda; should apply to print, internet, broadcast and cable content. Have I forgotten any media category?

  2. Objective is to provide politically-neutral (i.e., balanced) reporting of party and candidate campaign events, news releases, surveys, polls and direct/indirect associated "news". The media should be informative, not shaping, during an election.

  3. All political content during an election should be contained within a special section of the medium; other pages/appearances shall be limited to the content's headline, with a pointer/link to the actual content within this special section; headings shall accurately reflect the content.

  4. "Content" includes (but isn't limited to): news items, articles, stories, press releases and rephrasing/reformatting, pictures, videos, polls, surveys (one-time and continuous), analysis of the foregoing.

  5. Surveys and polls showing a party's progress throughout an election shall be consistent; the same polling firm, methodologies, questions/responses, breakdowns, and narrative shall always be used; it should NOT be possible to cherry-pick a party's best performance indicator that may vary over time; the indicators first used shall be used throughout the whole election period.

  6. Endorsement of a particular party by a media shall occur only once, shall appear only once, may not be republished with/without different wording to circumvent the rule.

  7. Press releases of parties, whether or not labeled as such, shall clearly be advised to the viewer as such; if rewritten by the media organization, this too shall be clearly advised to the viewer, with a reference/link to the original information.

  8. The total political content provided to viewers shall, in the aggregate be neutral to all of the mainstream political parties; the objective here is to leave the viewer with the impression on voting day that no political party has (in the aggregate) been advantaged or disadvantaged by the media's coverage of the election, save for the one permitted endorsement.

  9. Immediately after voting day, Elections Canada shall review each media's political coverage; where it deems a media's coverage unbalanced it shall assess against each advantaged Political Party a sum reflecting the advertising value of that advantage, plus a further financial penalty; these sums shall not be deductible as an advertising expense by the party; the offending media shall also be assessed a fine and, in egregious situations, may have criminal charges brought against it for attempting to tamper with an election.

  10. All so-called "voter tools" (e.g., CBC's Voter Compass) shall be audited by at least one independent third party approved by Elections Canada; the audit shall ensure that all methodologies, models, computations, programming, party positioning of their policies, and results fairly reflect the respondent's input and intent; the audit shall also endure that respondent data is secure, and not communicated to any other person or company, and that the "voter tool" cannot be changed after audit; this audit and Elections Canada's approval of the audit, shall take place before the "voter tool" is made available to the public.

  11. Only content applicable to the election for which a "special section" has been created shall be eligible for placement therein. Note: this is to prevent the scurrilous "nothing to do with the election" slammers that certain media companies have been presenting in this election, e.g., "leader's cousin's sister-in-law's boyfriend's appliance-repairman's niece being touted for XYZ position: great outcry", especially when the only "outcry" is in the article/story writer's imagination only; another example is disadvantageous (to a particular federal pollical party) of a purely provincial or municipal nature being promoted as "election news" in a blatant attempt to slam a party.

  12. If content is of an analytical nature by the media, the analysis should be complete and give all sides/aspects to the issues or news being analyzed.

  13. All media to have clearly visible/staffed means of promptly receiving, investigating, and resolving consumer complaints about these rules/policies; and to be legally required to immediately provide Elections Canada with a copy of each such complaint and response.
I'd welcome your comments so I can eventually package this up and provide it to my MP.

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