Lots of political ads and Justin Bieber this season, but few facts
Very soon the political ads will disappear from our airwaves for a little while. They will be replaced by more ads for diamonds, toys, cars, clothing, and cleaning products. Local news coverage won’t change much. In the next couple of months, we can expect to see more feel-good holiday stories in our news and in our advertising. However, right now we are still in campaign season, and it is important to reflect and look deeper at the media around us.
Everyday we see dozens of campaign messages. We hear the radio ads, drive past yard signs, read billboards, and of course, watch television, where the largest ad money lives. According to the Free Press report Left in the Dark: Local Election Coverage in the Age of Big-Money Politics, an anticipated $3.3 billion will be spent on political ads by Election Day. Though this unprecedented amount of spending on political commercials is unquestionably newsworthy, this report reveals what little coverage local news stations are giving to this historic moment in U.S. electoral history.
Free Press looked at the biggest spenders, number of ads, and millions of dollars pouring into the big media networks that own stations in places such as Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Las Vegas. The stations in these cities ignored investigating the message integrity of these ads, as well as who funded the ads. One Las Vegas station even played a campaign ad during its own news coverage without commentary.
In Nevada, where partisan campaign ads are flying at Nevadans at a rate of 10,000 per week, the New York Times reported a frighteningly prescient joke by KSNV (NBC affiliate) general manager Lisa Howfield. “We have a joke around here,” says Howfield, “Pretty soon we’re going to have such long commercial breaks that people are going to tune in and all they’ll hear is: ‘Hello, welcome to News 3. And goodbye.’”
There is not a lack of airtime to devote to the biggest issues in our country when, in a two-week period this summer, Milwaukee stations aired 53 segments on Justin Bieber. If our local news is more invested in infotainment than reporting or fact-checking the campaign messages we see everyday (the messages that move people to vote, not vote, or vote a certain way), we must take it upon ourselves as media consumers to ask important questions in order to make sure we are making the most informed decisions for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
Media Literacy Project believes we should all be critical media consumers. So when we see ads in the final days of this election season, we should ask these questions:
1. Who created and paid for this message and why?
2. Who is the target audience? Why are they targeting this audience?
3. What parts of the story are not being told?
4. What techniques of persuasion are being used?
5. What values are expressed?
6. Who does this message empower? Who is disempowered by this message? How does this serve the media maker’s interests?
Finding the answers to these questions will help us all be better equipped to make such important and irreversible decisions that impact our communities and our families.
Media Literacy Project needs your support to transform people into critical media consumers and engaged media justice advocates, in and out of election season. Consider becoming a monthly sustainer today to keep our deconstructions going and our media justice work moving forward.
For more information see the reports and infographic by Free Press.
Also, check out the Strong Families voter guides created by MLP’s partner Forward Together.