As stated in the introduction to this Master's
research project, there is little doubt that the Internet will play
a significant role in the upcoming Canadian federal election. This
will be Canada's inaugural Internet election.
In attempting to locate new communication technologies
in a political framework, it is useful to revisit the logic of Downs'
theory of political information. The amount of scarce resources
voters invest in gathering political information is determined by
three factors: the value to the individual of making a correct decision,
the relevance of the information to the decision at hand; and, the
cost of the data.
While the volume of data, including political information
is expanding exponentially, agenda-setting theory reminds us that
the amount of room on the public agenda is limited.
Further, politicians, the primary sources of political
information have little incentive to eschew the agenda setting role
of the traditional media. They at once exercise a tremendous amount
of control over political information, and at the same time are
faced with the political imperative of uniting a critical mass of
voters around a handful of central issues.
The traditional media, meanwhile post copious amounts
of content online and are exploring, if not yet maximizing, the
potential of the Internet all the while driven by business, nor
democratic imperatives. The traditional media are also increasingly
drawn to reporting on online activity. So far, however, there have
been no major challenges to the media status quo by online competitors
doing journalism in any significantly different manner.
As Davis (1999) suggests, rather than acting as
a revolutionary tool, rearranging political power and instigating
direct democracy, the Internet is more likely to become dominated
by the same actors in American politics who currently utilize other
mediums. Further, as Sparrow (1999) suggests, technology cannot
on its own re-excite citizens to the potential of the political
With the recent announcement that Canadian television
giant CanWest Global wants to purchase a majority share of the Hollinger
Inc. media holdings, and the even more recent announcement that
BCE Enterprises wants to take over the venerable Canadian media
empire Thompson Corp., including television interests such as Report
on Business TV and their newspaper flagship The Globe and Mail,
it seems unlikely that new media technologies are destined to empower
anyone other than existing media moguls.
But if the antonym of revolution is the status
quo, a cursory survey of developments in new media and Internet
technology indicate that too is unlikely.
Individual voters may not be on the cusp of becoming
masters of political information, drawing on online resources to
educate themselves to participate in the democratic process as never
before. However, the potential to increase their capacity to do
so is undeniably enhanced by the unique features of the Internet
and electronic mail.
However, both the traditional media and the new
Internet news portals have significant ground to cover before they
can truly claim to offer an online alternative to the status quo.
As the PoliticsWatch study of online news coverage during
the Canadian Alliance leadership race clearly demonstrates, none
of the existing online media currently maximize the potential of
Information gathering costs remain high for individual
voters because most online news providers rely on a single source
for their content. Whether that source is the Canadian Press
news wire or one of the other traditional media, the result
is the same: little value is added to the news product by being
posted on the Internet. And, as noted above, the ownership structures
in the Canadian media industry do not appear to be diversifying,
but rather to be conglomerating.
In addition, audio and video are not yet married
with text based reporting to produce more complete coverage online.
Basic visual images such as photographs are seriously lacking in
online political news. And, perhaps most significantly, individual
news consumers are only slightly more likely to have the opportunity
to express what think or feel about the issues of the day online
as they are in the traditional media.
One thing is certain, as the potential uses of
new communication technologies are explored and expanded upon citizens
will have an unparalleled opportunity to observe and participate
in the genesis of the new media. That in part, is what has inspired
PoliticsWatch, the desire to be part of something new, something
exciting that touches on so many important facets of society.
As Canada's Political Portalä , PoliticsWatch
is positioned at the forefront of Canadian online political news,
offering meta-journalism to political news consumers and, resources
permitting, original political news from a new voice and perspective.
In offering a compendium of online voter resources, PoliticsWatch
will also eventually seek to assist voters to use online political
information to educate themselves about the issues of the day and
explore ways to make their own views count.