Musings —10.13.2014 11:07 AM—
The media are upset.
This isn’t a unique thing. It happens a lot. But what makes the latest controversy noteworthy is the subject-matter: an obscure change to Canadian copyright law, buried in a Conservative government omnibus bill. The proposed change would permit political parties to use material published and broadcast by news organizations for free in their ads.
CTV discovered the change, and many in the media are in high dudgeon about it. The Opposition parties, always hoping to curry favour with the media, say the change is “disrespectful” (the NDP’s Nathan Cullen) and “devious” (the Liberals’ Ralph Goodale).
Having crafted many, many an ad for the Liberal Party making use of broadcast clips or published reports, I laughed out loud at the professed indignation of Messrs. Cullen and Goodale. Both guys know that party operatives, of all stripes, have made use of media material in political advertising, for years.
There is a legal reason to justify the proposed change: there is no copyright in news. The presentation of it on the page or on the screen, maybe. But the actual newsworthy events? Forget it.
The media don’t possess a copyright over whatever issues from Stephen Harper’s mouth, nor any other politician. Those statements belong to the person who says them, and the public who receive them.
There is a political reason why all political parties are privately cheering on the Conservatives’ dastardly move, however. Madison Avenue’s Rosser Reeves, if he was here, could tell us all about it.
Reeves was the guy who conjured up modern political advertising.
Until Reeves came along, political salesmanship was a primitive process. Candidates for national office were obliged to submit themselves to grueling, months-long campaigns — travelling great distances by train, hollering themselves hoarse from makeshift platforms, grasping innumerable hands at innumerable rallies, and occasionally making use of radio to broadcast lengthy speeches listened to by only a few.
Reeves changed all that. He was a genius. “Certs breath mints — with a magic drop of retsyn.” And “How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S.” And “Wonder bread helps build strong bodies in eight ways.” And, perhaps most memorably of all, “M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hands.” Remember those? All Reeves.
He met with Republican bigwigs in 1952, because they were anxious about how to get General Eisenhower elected. Reeves gave them a way. He wrote a three-page memo, double spaced.
“Is there a new way of campaigning that can guarantee a victory for Eisenhower in November? The answer is: ‘Yes!’ what is this ‘new way of campaigning?’ This new way of campaigning, in essence is a new use of what advertising men know as ‘spots.’ A spot is an announcement on radio — or an announcement on television. THE HUMBLE RADIO OR TV ‘SPOT’ CAN DELIVER MORE LISTENERS FOR LESS MONEY THAN ANY OTHER FORM OF ADVERTISING. Let us repeat that. THE HUMBLE RADIO OR TV ‘SPOT’ CAN DELIVER MORE LISTENERS FOR LESS MONEY THAN ANY OTHER FORM OF ADVERTISING.”
What Reeves wrote in breathless prose, 62 years ago, still holds up. The best way to communicate with voters, then and now, is using a TV or radio spot that contains a damning bit of audio or video of your opponent. Or a stirring clip of your own leader, rallying the country. Or both.
Voters want to see and hear, on their own, what a politician says. That’s how they make important choices in elections. They don’t want the media’s analysis and bias – they want the video or audio proof.
That may upset media bean-counters, but too bad. The public statements of politicians belong to the public, not private media organizations.
And that’s why this change, while upsetting the media bosses, is good for democracy.