Popular Posts

Friday, September 07, 2007

On the trail of the e-campaign

Generally politicians are good communicators, but only a select few have found themselves ideally suited to the dominant media of their age.

Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy
John F Kennedy appeared tanned and confident in his TV debate

Churchill's voice resonated for the radio, while John F. Kennedy looked great on the box and famously won the presidency after his opponent, Richard Nixon, appeared unkempt and shifty during a pre-vote TV debate in the US.

So which politicians are storming the barricades in the information revolution?

There is little doubt that the internet is becoming part of the political furniture.

CNN and YouTube recently teamed up to hold a debate for America's upcoming primaries and France has shown that just as with democracy itself, the country is also a political trailblazer on the web.

These technologies help and don't help politicians
Loic Le Meur, blogger

France has recently had a spate of national elections for the presidency and the national assembly. The internet became an important factor in the campaign.

Loic Le Meur is France's most famous blogger. He was recruited by Nikolas Sarkozy to advise on blogging, YouTube and Second Life, and how to exploit these technologies to get elected.

"These technologies help and don't help politicians," explained Mr Le Meur. "They give them an opportunity to express themselves directly without the filter of the press.

"I am not commenting on that filter, but at least he could directly express his views. And I have to say that a lot of the French press were against him and you could tell. But at least, like it or not, it was his voice".

Modern image

You can see why politicians like going online. The internet lets politicians button-hole the public and talk to them without awkward questions from journalists.

But not everyone is convinced our politicians are talking into wobbly web-cams just to put across their positions.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton announced her presidential bid on her website

Image is everything in politics, and the last thing today's leaders want to be labelled is as "a pen and paper person".

"At the present time I think that it is mostly [about] showing that you are a modern politician," said Thierry Vedel of Sciences Po, the prestigious school of political science in Paris.

"Since you are a modern politician you are trying to use all of the modern tools of communication, including the net, but also different political and marketing techniques."

But where digital technology might be changing things is in making everyone a potential reporter.

These days if a politician swears under their breath or mutters an off-colour aside there is bound to be someone there eagerly recording unguarded comments not just for posterity, but for broadcast.

"Video everywhere means more transparency, more authenticity," said Mr Le Meur. "They have to be like they are and not as they wish they would be, which is very, very different.

"They have to behave like they behave normally. There is always someone with a phone, a camera, recording it or blogging it. And I think it is very good news because it means they can't lie."

Online activism

Where the internet is probably having most impact is in the way people are organising themselves.

MySociety.org is a British website that helps people to take joint action in a variety of ways.

On FixMyStreet.com people report anything from a dumped fridge to a missing manhole cover. Sister sites are designed to make our political representatives actually represent us.

"One of the questions about that is whether we are going to see a new kind of activism, something which is lighter compared to the old activism meaning people getting engaged in politics just for a short period, on a very specific issue, and then in some way getting retired when they don't like what's going on," said Mr Vedel.

The jury is still out on whether the internet is really swinging the campaign.

While it can definitely raise the profile of fringe candidates, it is still the mainstream media that most politicians are looking to win over.

No comments:

My Google Profile