Thursday, 30 October 2008

a question of balance

i can't say that i agree with senator obama's decision to screen half hour "infomercials" on american television channels today. my misgivings are around spending limits on paid advertising and having a level playing field. i can't say that i understand the intricacies of american electoral law, but i understand that senator mccain has chosen to use state funding while senator obama has chosen not to. this apparently means that they have different spending limits, and that does not seem to be a good idea to me.

an election campaign should be about a contest of ideas. each party puts out its policies, and debates their merits, as well as the pitfalls of the other party's ideas. voters are then able to analyse the competing policies and make an informed decision as to which party would be the best to govern. in order for that to work though, each party has to have the ability to reach voters and present its side of the story.

of course there are many things that are a barrier to communication and debate. media bias is a major one, eg where there is selective reporting or a one-sided op-ed or undue prominence given to one party/candidate. voter illiteracy and apathy are also barriers. and the tendency to focus on personalities rather than issues is often a distraction. a focus on contradictory statements or work eperience is legitimate, but things like family background, appearance and the like are generally a waste of our time.

then there are issues of fairness for smaller parties, ensuring that they get the opportunity to get their voices heard. that's not so much an issue in the american campaign, although i think their system would be much improved if smaller parties could join in the debate.

despite the barriers, i'm all for spending caps. it just turns out that this year senator obama is in a position to spend more than senator mccain. but what if the positions were reversed? i certainly wouldn't want mr mccain to have half-hour slots if mr obama didn't have them. i suppose you could argue that mr obama has been able to draw more funds because he has policies that appeal to the people. and mr mccain has only himself to blame for choosing an option that didn't allow him to raise similar levels of funding.

and yet i just don't feel comfortable with an election being won because one or other party had more to spend, so could buy more advertising. which is why i totally support the electoral finance act. i think it has really made a positive difference to our campaigns, and yes it could do with some tweaking, but on the whole it's doing the job. we know the names of the individuals and groups that are giving messages, we know who has been putting in major sums of money into the campaign, and we have equitable spending caps.

i'm having a few computer problems this evening so am not able to put in the links i would like. will try to pop these in tomorrow (if i get time!). just a final word to say that it's really quite pathetic the amount of airtime being given to the fact that the PM had a fall today. i can't even begin to describe how pathetic and small-minded our media has been to focus on that issue. and yes, the same applies to the footage of don brash trying to get into that strange racing vehicle thing in the last campaign. can we please focus on the issues people? is it really that hard?

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