Thursday, September 5, 2013

Open Letter to the FDA--Shortcomings of Some Canadian Media During Elections?

Don't Gamble With Our Community
Issues, Not Odds 

A recent article in the Calgary Herald introduced the Calgary community to six local residents intending to run for mayor of Calgary against incumbent Naheed Nenshi.(“Longshots line up to take on Nenshi in mayoral race” 30 August 2013). This Article brought good news to all of us who support democracy, for we know that an election with only one choice can never be true democracy.

Nevertheless, we were disappointed by the rhetorical choices made by the article’s author and editors. Referring to the six candidates as 'longshots' in the headline and 'crazy' in the article, and to Mayor Nenshi as a 'shoo-in' – all within the first five paragraphs – the article subtly but powerfully encourages readers to dismiss them as viable candidates.

The terms ‘longshot’ and ‘shoo-in’ refer to the chances of being elected – something of interest perhaps to bookies and gamblers looking to make money on election results. But these terms do not refer to the factors that are (or should be) relevant in supporting and voting for a candidate, factors such as the candidate's experience and his or her position on relevant issues. Admittedly, these factors are included in the article’s brief bios of five of the six candidates, but only after priming the reader to focus on the odds.

It might be argued that readers need to know the chances of a candidate winning so that they can make an informed choice come election day. But those odds largely reflect expectations around who the majority of voters will vote for; they say nothing about who is the best candidate for office. By directing attention to irrelevant information, reporting on the chance of a candidate’s winning actually encourages voters to make uninformed choices on election day: why learn about the issues when I already know who's going to win (or lose) anyway?

The Calgary Herald has already done the community a valuable service by introducing these six candidates to the public and letting us know that we can expect a choice this October; we hope that the Calgary Herald will continue to be inclusive in its coverage of this year's mayoral race.

But reporting on the odds of a candidate's success undermines our democracy by enabling and encouraging voters to appeal to (apparent or actual) popularity when casting their ballot. As such, we ask that the journalists and editors at the Calgary Herald help empower Calgarians to vote on the issues this election by focusing its reporting on relevant factors – e.g., the candidates' experience and their position on issues – and leaving discussion of their chances of winning for the bookies, gamblers, and others who treat our elections as an opportunity to make money on a bet.

Anonymous letter to the Foundation for Democratic Advancement
September 4, 2013

This letter and any other open letter do not necessarily represent the views of the FDA. The FDA supports broad and diverse speech.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting and important. The lack of regulation of media during Canadian elections is likely attributable to the media's shortcomings.

    Who benefits from narrow and imbalanced media election coverage? Who does not benefit?

    Who benefits from media coverage which falls short of comprehensive coverage of the election issues from all registered candidates and parties? Who does not benefit?


Thank you for sharing your perspective.