Blogs and Politics

Jon Bonne’s reply to this piece by Dave Winer on how blogs may help shape the next election.

Some interesting points. I think what Jon misses when he says “If anything imperils the í04 election, itís the overall lack of interest in politics until the last moments of the race” is that a lot of people like me don’t follow the mainstream press coverage of the election – we rely on alternative news sources. Blogs, emails, peer discussions, sites like Alternet and MotherJones. It’s not for lack of interest, it’s that this interest is not adequately served by mainstream media coverage.

We have come to recognise the vested interests, the screening of permitted journalists, the fear from journalists of biting the hand that feeds, the sometimes biased attitudes of writers, as slanting the mainstream media coverage. Mainstream media becomes a PR conduit for the main candidates (the Liberals and Labor parties in Australia), and do not provide a balanced and inclusive view.

We may not be a majority, but we are not an insignificant minority.

I clearly remember in the last election – we have 4 parties that I would suggest have “mainstream” support – Liberal (current coalition government with the National party), Labor, Democrats, and the Greens, plus a couple of (sometimes) influential independents (full list of MPs in the senate and the house of representitives). In the “national debate” two of those parties were represented. The media coverage during the election by and large focused solely on Liberal and Labor, with the odd 2 second snippet from the Dems and the Greens. This is not unbiased coverage. Now some would argue that the news and TV don’t have the time to display every point of view, but surely they can accomodate those 4 main party voices, instead of perpetuating the “two horse race” ideology.

Although I admit that perhaps that certain indicators (such as voter turnout) suggest that the wider audience is not interested, I prefer to think (and my personal experience and peer feedback suggests) that the lack of interest comes from an overall cynicism of the electoral candidates and their corporate interests rather than a lack of interest in politics per se. Alternative media sources can provide alternative perspectives, and highlight alternative candidates and points of view, potentially allowing such cynical voters to reengage in politics on at least some level, and at the least being exposed to alternative arguments that can be levelled at major party candidates on the odd occasion they mingle with the citizens.

And, as Jon suggests, blogs are an interesting, and potentially important, addition to the mix. I see the main disadvantage of blogs (apart from bias – which as I stated earlier is not restricted to blogs) is the time constraint Jon mentions, specicially in relation to not having the chance to keep up-to-date on all angles/candidates/poll indicators etc. However, his suggestion that mainstream journalists provide the “big picture” view, and that they provide a more balanced and informed perspective, in my opinion and experience, just does not add up.

Until mainstream journalists can actually speak their mind on issues without the corporate censorship that (inevitably – no matter how good the separation of editorial and advertising and political influences) occurs, until they start telling us the real story, rather than regurgitating the main parties’ tired old lines and mud-slinging, alternative media sources (including blogs) will remain an important, if not dominant, source of news to many people.

In my mind, the question is: Do those people constitute a significant enough number, or more importantly influence, to make a real difference in the political landscape?

I think we have seen some prominent examples of how this mix is shifting. South Korea is one example. The Trent Lott affair is another. These are still exceptions and not the rule, and perhaps things will continue this way. However, if these situations continue to arise and if the medium, its reach and its influence continue to develop, we may see these communications channels gain increasing importance in political affairs.