"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 have.
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 Atkins(1)
"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 statement.
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 grassroots"(7).
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 printed:
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 victims"(24),
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.