Occupiers and Legislators: A Snapshot of Political Media Coverage

June 1, 2012
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Occupiers and Legislators: A Snapshot of Political Media Coverage
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It is a small proportion of Canadians who sit daily in Question Period or travel across the country to spend time on Parliament Hill. Instead, much of the information and context Canadians receive about politics comes from what they see on the evening news or read in newspapers, in print or online. 

The news media help to shape citizens’ perceptions of their political leaders and the political system. However, the performance of the news media is often criticized, with politicians, citizens, and media themselves charging that the media too often portrays politics in an argumentative, personality-driven way, focusing on the political horse-race and political games at the expense of providing the Canadian public with information on the issues that matter to them. As one former Member of Parliament said, “I find the media are very selective and very critical of politicians and that has only led to a lot of apathy in the public.” 

Rather than engaging citizens in the issues of the day, some argue, poor media coverage may serve to alienate Canadians from important public debates, leading to declining levels of trust and confidence in government and other political leaders. In an era of declining voter turnout and decreasing participation in political parties, it is worth investigating whether these charges are accurate. 

Samara, a charitable organization that works to improve political and civic engagement in Canada, prepared this study to assess the validity of common criticisms of the media and especially to answer these three questions:

  1. Is the tone of political news coverage overtly or routinely negative? 
  2. Does the news media fail to provide the public with enough information about issues that affect their daily lives? 
  3. Do stories overly focus on political games or government processes at the expense of issues? 

Social media is increasingly part of how people source their news, so we also conducted an initial look at political conversations on Twitter. The goal was to see what was discussed online, and how newspaper and television news stories were incorporated into online political conversations.

*This PDF was created in 2012, and may contain inactive links and/or outdated references.

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