Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Massaging the message

McGill’s University’s Observatory on Media and Public Policy is doing a continuing survey of how different newspapers portray the different parties and leaders in the federal election. Some of the results indicate that some media have let their ideological bias trample their ethics.

Not surprisingly, the Liberals get clobbered everywhere, although with varying degrees of intensity. All of the seven major newspapers studied run more negative elements than positives ones about Paul Martin and his campaign.

What’s troubling are some major differences between publications. Analysis of the National Post’s coverage (reports, columns and editorials) reveals a score of –38% toward the Liberals, 0 being neutral. On the other hand, the Vancouver Sun seems to go much easier on the ruling party, with a score of –10%.

The image of opposition parties varies just as widely. The Calgary Herald’s portrayal of the Conservatives is at +12%, while the Toronto Star ends up at –13%. The NDP gets the same kind of widely varying treatment. You think the Bloc Québécois gets a break from the Quebec media? Not so. The only media to portray them in a positive light is the Globe and Mail, while Le Devoir’s coverage is at –10%.

Portraits of leaders are even more diverse. Jack Layton’s score varies from +9% (Vancouver Sun) to –32% (National Post).

Liberal insiders are already using the study to support their claim that the media is out to get them. That’s besides the point. After all, if the Liberals are having a bad campaign – and they are – it has to show in the media. However, the study highlights the fact that some media shamelessly favour one party and leader over the others in their news stories.

When reporters and news editors try to directly influence the way people vote, it changes the way PR flacks work considerably, including how and to whom they make information available and access to the leader. When the media outlets stop pretending to be objective, those responsible for media relations may start seeing them as opponents or allies, instead of part of the democratic process.

The job of communication officer on the media bus (mediasitter) getting any easier.


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