Sunday, December 30, 2012

Distinguishing Political Rhetoric from Fact

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice's home page.
In a recent Canadian libel case (at the Ontario, Canada, Superior Court), Mr. Justice John Macdonald made a decision based on the ability of the public to distinguish political rhetoric from facts. The case involves plaintiff, Mr. George Foulidis who sues defendant, Mr. Robert Ford (former Toronto mayor) for libel in regard to an interview by Mr. Ford (published by the Toronto Sun on August 12, 2010), in which Mr. Ford as a mayoral candidate criticized the 20 year contract between Tugg Inc. and the City of Toronto and inferred "corruption" without being able to factual support the inference. Or in Mr. Ford's words:

"Q: Rob, you...I think I spoke with you yesterday, there are a number of things being rammed through at the next City Council meeting, um, you know, you know I’ve written about the Foulidis contract. There are a number of other things…leasing deals which I’ll be writing about. All kinds of um, things. Um, first of all how do you feel about that and second of all, as Mayor, I mean is it possible for you to undo any of this stuff, after the fact?

Rob: Absolutely. Absolutely it is. Let me ask you one question, how did David Miller get elected?

Q: On a bridge. On a bridge.

Rob Ford: That’s exactly how he got it. The $2 bridge that ended up costing millions. And so, he said that you can undo anything that’s been done.

Q: The Foulidis deal?

Rob Ford: What…On the Tuggs?

Q: Yes.

Rob Ford: Absolutely. It’s in camera, obviously, its confidential, I wish that you guys knew what happened in camera, which a lot of you do, obviously, but these in camera meetings, there’s more corruption and skullduggery going on in there than I’ve ever seen in my life. And…and if Tuggs isn’t, I don’t know what is. And I can’t accuse anyone, or I can’t pinpoint it, but why do we have to go in camera on a Tuggs deal?



Rob Ford: So, I wish, I wish I could tell you the stuff that’s happened behind closed doors. The things the media does not know.



Rob Ford: So a lot of these issues…sorry Andy…A lot these issues don’t have to go in camera. And if that Tuggs deal doesn’t stink to high heaven I…I.



Doug Ford: …How about a 20 year untendered bid at a lower cost and then you find out the owner’s contributing to the guys who are voting for him.



Rob Ford: That’s illegal. You call the police in to investigate that" (Foulidis v. Ford, 2012 ONSC 7189). 

In the determination of libel, Justice Macdonald examines whether or not Mr. Ford's published interview would be perceived by a reasonable person as damaging to Mr. Foulidis' personal well-being, reputation, business interests etc.

Justice Macdonald's reasoning is as follows:

"Reasonable persons generally would consider the whole of an article in order to form any conclusions. Reasonable persons reading the article in issue and the page 4 headline would have been struck by the use of the work “corruption”. It is a serious issue when spoken about governmental processes by a member of the government in issue. It would have been an alarming word in the circumstances, and reasonable persons reading it would have scrutinized the article to see whether there was any substance to it. They would have looked to see whether there was any basis in fact put forward for the assertion of corruption, whether any such basis in fact supported the assertion of corruption, and whether the person asserting corruption expressed any limitations or disclaimers which limited, modified or clarified the inherent seriousness of the assertion of corruption. Reasonable persons would have read this article in this way so they could decide for themselves what to make of Mr. Ford’s corruption assertion. When I speak of the reasonable person or the reasonable reader in the rest of these reasons, I speak of them acting in the way I have described" (Foulidis v. Ford, 2012 ONSC 7189).

Canadian libel law is limited by the reasonable person criteria. Yes, it is clear that a reasonable person would understand that Mr. Ford's statements were his unsupported opinion or suspicion rather than a statement of fact. However, what about less reasonable persons who are unable to process Mr. Ford's statements as a comprehensive and sound whole? What about reasonable persons who only scanned Mr. Ford's statements, and thereby missing the whole thrust of his statements? What about reasonable persons whose thoughts were clouded by their partisanship so that they were unable to understand the whole meaning of his statements? What percentage of the person's who read Mr. Ford's interview were in the "reasonable" frame of mind which Justice Macdonald refers to, and how many of the persons were not?

Justice Macdonald's reasonable person standard appears more based on legal theory rather than reality. If the Canadian legal system assumes that everyone is a reasonable person or that it only weighs the perception of a reasonable person or common sense view then there would be almost no regulation of political speech. Interestingly, Canadian media laws follow this loose framework, with minimal or no regulation of political speech in terms of providing sources for information and considering the impact on less reasonable persons or reasonable persons not functioning in the moment at the reasonable standard. Political candidates and parties, media corporations, and citizens are free to influence and manipulate public opinion within the extreme of hate speech. A more advanced democracy, like France, takes the view that not every citizen is in the same reasonable state and that political content regulation and accountability are necessary to ensure that the electorate is fully informed of its electoral choices.

Turning back to Justice Macdonald, it appears that there is reason to overturn his decision on grounds that not everyone who read Mr. Ford's interview were in Justice Macdonald's ideal reasonable state of mind. The degree of damages would be contingent on determining objectively the percentage of persons in the reasonable state and percentage not in the reasonable state. As is, Justice Macdonald's decision allows for political rhetoric and the resulting misinformed public.

Justice Macdonald's Decision

FDA Reports, Articles on France

FDA Reports, Articles on Canada






Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Unsatisfactory Electoral Systems affect most North Americans

Based on population, the map captures the percentage of electoral unfairness in North American including population figures from Central America.
The FDA derived the 84 percent electoral unfairness metric based on 2011 and 2012 audits of the American, Canadian, and Mexican electoral systems. Unsatisfactory electoral fairness means that there are major and minor deficiencies in an electoral process, which weaken the legitimacy of election outcomes. The American, Canadian, and Mexican electoral systems have significant deficiencies in legislation pertaining to electoral finance and political content of media.

Population is used for analysis due to it association with democracy via one person one vote. 

The Central American countries comprise 16 percent or 86,148,000 of the North American population.

The United States comprises 67.7 percent of the 84 percent zone of unsatisfactory electoral fairness.

2012 FDA Media Advisory on the U.S. Electoral System







Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

Friday, December 28, 2012

Canada's First Nations Challenge Their Marginalization

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is currently on a hunger strike through the Idle No More movement and for aboriginal political rights and protection of their sovereignty.
In the mist of the holiday season many of us (westerners) have our bellies filled with turkey and mashed potatoes, so the thought of a hunger strike at this time of year would surely be the last thing on our minds. But Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is unlike many of us, in her third week of her hunger strike she continues to urge the Canadian Prime Minister to hold a meeting with First Nation Leaders.

Chief Spence’s protest is on behalf of the Idle No More movement, a movement focused on spreading a culture of respect for treaties and for the aboriginal people. Chief Spence has been on strike since December 11th, she begs the government to ensure a “nation-to-nation” meeting between the First Nations leaders and the Harper Conservative Government. Of the dire issues is the recent Bill C-45 which has been approved in the government’s budgetary bill. Bill C-45, the Job and Growth Act, is a unilateral decision made by the Harper government regarding on-reserve voting and land seizures by non-natives. In short, Bill C-45 exemplifies the Harper Government’s neglect in following the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and its own promise to consult with First Nations leaders.

Conflicted, Chief Spence demands that the Canadian Conservative government uphold treaties and include First Nations Leaders in the decision making process. Chief Spence also, calls on the public support for the Idle No More movement. The youth lead aboriginal movement has gained momentum after their Boxing Day demonstration at the West Edmonton Mall, as well as demonstrations across Canada in Saskatchewan and Calgary. As the statement below reads, the Idle No More movement has made Chief Spence’s hunger strike and Bill C-45 their focal point.

"There are many nations taking action(s) to reflect acts of Indigenous nationhood, sovereignty and jurisdiction in response to the passing of legislation such as Bill C-45 and we must continue on this path.  When we stand strong and believe in our ways and assert acts of Nationhood, it does not matter what amount of legislation the federal government introduces or passes because it is not with our consent and therefore, is not applicable.  Stand strong and believe in the spirit and intent of our Treaties as that’s what our ancestors are calling us to do.” Idle No More Article

The hunger strike has already drawn the attention of many local media outlets, the Liberal leader contender Justin Trudeau to meet with Chief Spence and a former Ontario Lieutenant Governer James Bartleman. James Bartleman grew up on the Chippewas of Rama First Nation reserve and recognizes the need to "raise the consciousness of the public, and raise the consciousness of the Canadian cabinet, that these [the First Nations community] are real people. And they suffer." (Stechyson, N. 2012-27-12, Montreal Gazette: Montreal)

Canadian Aboriginal Policies Lag Far Behind Other Western Countries

Canadian Prime Minister Powers






Ms. Mansharn Toor, FDA Blogger and Writer with a background in International Relations.







Question to the Readers:

Reflecting on the thoughts of James Bartleman, is conscious awareness enough to protect the sovereignty of the First Nations in Canada?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

FDA's Interactive Electoral Fairness Map

Foundation for Democratic Advancement's interactive map on electoral fairness.
32 countries from around the world are linked in the map. Only one country, France, of the 32 countries has an exceptional electoral system.

FDA's Interactive Electoral Fairness Map

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Importance and Limits of Governmental Transparency

The U.S. Federal Election Commission is significantly transparent about the inequity of U.S. electoral finances, and so much so that the public may perceive the inequity of U.S. electoral finances as what ought to be.
Public transparency of governmental expenditures and policies are critical to a healthy democracy by creating the basis for accountability and deterrence against corruption. Typically in western democracies, citizens are elected for three to five year terms. Barring recall and referendum initiatives, the public's only opportunity for direct accountability is during election periods. However, what happens during these three to five years should impact the election periods. But what if there is no transparency of what politicians have done and not done? What is the actions and non-actions of politicians are glossed over with half-truths?

In the United States, for example, there is significant transparency of candidate and party finances. However, transparency is only as good as the laws which underlie the transparency. So in the United States, transparency of the unlimited contributions and expenditures of Super PACs and the unlimited expenditures of privately funded presidential candidates only show the limitations of U.S. federal electoral finance law through laws which support financial inequity. This transparency can lead to reform or it could lead to a status quo through public conditioning of so-called accepted norms.

In Canada, as the article below shows, there are serious transparency issues during the terms of politicians and with public institutions. Although Canada has a Freedom of Information Act, if this Act is full of loopholes on public disclosure of information which politicians use to create secrecy, and avoid accountability and exposure, what good is the Act? If the public is not fully informed on the activities and non-activities of politicians and public institutions, how can the public objectively evaluate their term in office during election periods, and how can the public hold public institutions accountable? How can corruption and misuse of public monies be prevented? How can public policies be critically evaluated by the public?

In Venezuela, in the recent 2012 presidential election, the state was only transparent of candidate and party finances. This lack of transparency is the opposite of the United States, and yet both undermine democracy by making particular activities legal which are detrimental to democracy or by giving the state authoritarian power over candidates and parties, and the public.

In an ideal democracy, governmental activities should be transparent to the public within extremes, just as the activities of candidates and parties should be as well. In addition, the laws of society should reflect the overall interests of the public good (and in cases where they address special issues they should not be detrimental to the public good.) The examples above show either laws counter to the public good or an unacceptable level of non-transparency.

To combat these democratic deficiencies, people need to do like the article below: raise your voice to your fellow citizen and make transparent the lack of transparency and/or the laws which are counter to the public good. The power is in the people's hands if they are willing to exercise it.






Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director







Commentary:

Culture of Secrecy Keeping Canadians in the Dark
By Kevin Donovan (Toronto Star)

In 1990, six years on the job, I walked through the doors of York City Hall on Eglinton Ave. W, ducked behind the counter and after a short chat with a clerk got to work. Telephone records of city councillors, expense reports, city correspondence were mine for the viewing. I took notes, copied what I wanted to copy. Along with reporters from other Toronto dailies I was investigating allegations of municipal corruption.

After New Year’s 1991, still on the hunt, I returned to York, at the time one of six municipalities that made up Metropolitan Toronto. I was greeted by a not-so-friendly clerk and a form.

“Fill this out,” he said.

“Why?” I asked, heart sinking.

“You now have to apply under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to see government records,” the clerk said.

“Public records?” I asked.

“Government records,” the clerk sniffed, leaving me with a form and a pen. The pen didn’t work, as I recall. Neither did, or does, the freedom-of-information system in this country.

The records unearthed before the new law led to front page stories in the Star and elsewhere that fuelled a major police investigation. Ultimately, three councillors and a developer were convicted of a widespread pattern of bribery, favours and influence peddling. I doubt justice would have been served if the law governing municipal and provincial access was passed one year earlier.

This is not a story about freedom-of-information laws, which exist at all levels of government in Canada and are just one way, often a last resort, of obtaining access. Rather, it is a story about the spirit — or lack of spirit — of public information in this country. You, me, we the taxpayers own the information. We pay for it to be collected, but more often than not we are denied access unless we engage in a fight that can easily last a year or more and cost thousands of dollars.

Have you ever read The Charm School, Nelson DeMille’s fabulous 1988 thriller about a Cold War school that used captured American soldiers to train Russians to act like Americans?

In my darkest investigative reporter moments I imagine ex-journalists or wannabe journalists are training government officials how to stop the public and reporters from getting information. The response is formulaic — federally, provincially and municipally.

It starts, quite simply, with a request that sounds pleasant and promising.

Government official: “Could you please put your request in writing. Oh, and if you don’t mind, could you please tell us your angle, and your deadline.”

Here are some of the agencies in Canada that have recently used this tactic on the Star: ORNGE; Health Canada; Toronto Police; the Defence Department; the mayor’s office; various court houses; the Ontario College of Teachers; the Toronto District School Board; the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons; the provincial coroner’s office; Ontario’s Health Ministry; the University Health Network and many, many more.

In each case, the agency begins with a delay — days, weeks, even months. With ORNGE, truthful answers did not come for three years.

Next, the fee estimate. Access laws allow an agency to charge for the release of public records. The fees are to pay for the preparation of the records, removal of personal information and photocopying. They have become a barrier to access, a weapon in the war on freedom of information.

Last summer I asked for data showing construction and maintenance work orders for public schools in Toronto. The Toronto District School Board, in its wisdom, responded by sending a letter asking us for $3.6 million to process the request, even though it was a relatively simple electronic request. Opening that letter ranks as one of my best moments of 2012. Imagine, you are trying to investigate serious problems at the publicly funded school board and this is the response you receive?

Freedom-of-information rules require that both parties mediate or negotiate terms during the life of a request. The Star negotiated the TDSB’s fee estimate on the front page. The fee was dropped and we obtained the work orders at no charge, resulting in a powerful story that revealed problems at the school board were more serious and widespread than originally thought.

I am frequently amazed how often government officials delay and deny information that deals with health and safety. I once asked for reports detailing serious abuse of people with intellectual disabilities living in provincially funded group homes. Sources in the community said it was a real problem and they asked the Star to look into it. I was clear in my request: the reports, I told the ministry, would reveal the extent of abuse of the most vulnerable residents of Ontario.

Receiving a request like that, would you not think someone at Queen’s Park should sound the alarm? Investigate?

Instead, I received a fee estimate of close to $3,000 to compile the records and was told it would take six months. More months were added to that extension and when I ultimately received the records, in a big brown envelope handed to me by a visibly nervous freedom-of-information officer in return for the Star’s cheque, they were sad and shocking. Many Ontario people with intellectual or developmental disabilities had been beaten, sexually abused, or stolen from by the community workers paid to look after them.

Only when that story and others were published on the front page did the provincial government take action.

What followed internally at Queen’s Park were predictable questions: Who knew? When did they know? The answer was simple: government officials who prepared the information — blacking out many parts deemed personal (I later learned some sections were deemed too embarrassing to release) — they knew. Up the chain of command, top officials knew, because they approved the release.

Why this happens time and again relates to a dark part of human nature. If your job is to look out for taxpayers’ money or vulnerable people, and there is information that would reveal you had failed, would you want it released? Of course not. To stop the release of sensitive or embarrassing information, governments have a growing arsenal: time delays, whopping fees and outright denials. When the denial weapon is used, the public’s only choice is to appeal the ruling. That process can take up to two years and while the requestor is successful more often than not (in the Star’s experience, at least) it raises this concept: information delayed is information denied.

The mid-level government officials who make many of these decisions sometimes do it to protect the minister. Once, I had been told that the provincial health ministry had built a hangar at the Toronto Island Airport for a certain type of airplane. The plane had a high, distinctive tail. My sources told me the plane would not fit in the hangar. I asked the government and was refused access to information on the hangar and the contract to build it. I was told that, yes, the airplane fits.

Frances Lankin, who was the health minister of the day, stood at Queen’s Park and said the Star story was wrong. But Lankin, as she later told me, decided to dig deeper and questioned her bureaucrats. “Finally, they told me the truth. Yes, the plane would fit, but the nose would have to be raised quite high for the plane to fit in.” Not something the government should be doing with an expensive air ambulance (this was the predecessor of ORNGE.)

Lankin wanted the truth, which she said was more important than dealing with an embarrassing revelation.

Even when we are successful in obtaining a certain class of information (as in the abuse case) we must start from scratch the next time a request is made. Years later we went through a similar frustrating process to get reports related to nursing homes. Precedents may be the backbone of our common law but they do not apply to information requests. A reporter may obtain a public document from a court in Toronto one day; the next day, a clerk will deny an identical request.

Given all of this, and the importance of the free flow of information in a democracy, there is only one solution.

All levels of government need to develop schedules of information that must be released in a timely fashion. The United States has this system and it works, though not always, better than the Canadian system.

To get there would require a political will that no government has shown. Politicians agree with the concept in opposition. When they get to the other side of the house or council, it all changes. I recall sitting with colleague Moira Welsh at a lunch with Liberal Dalton McGuinty while he was in opposition. The issue was records relating to abused children and local children’s aid societies. Both talked a good game about the importance of information being made public. Unfortunately, McGuinty’s Liberals have done what previous governments did: kept information secret for as long as they possibly could.

To end where we started, the municipal corruption cases in Toronto caused the province in the early 1990s to create Project 80, a municipal corruption squad of police. After it had run for a year or so I asked the solicitor general’s ministry (in a phone call) how much the squad was costing the taxpayer.

“Could you put the request in writing?” I was asked by a ministry official. “What is your deadline?”

To obtain the information, it took two years, including the original freedom-of-information request, an appeal to the provincial information commissioner (which we won and the government appealed), and an appeal to two levels of Ontario court (which we won).

In his submissions, Toronto Star lawyer Paul Schabas argued that “the public has a right to know what government is doing.”

The government, in its response, told the court the police are “apoplectic” that this information will get out.

The information, when released, detailed $3.4 million of expenditures, including officers’ salaries, forensic accounting, photocopying (a lot of photocopying!), vehicle rentals and car washes.

When the court ruled in the Star’s favour, the judges on the panel noted that, when the Star originally made its reasonable request, the government’s response was to tell the Star to “buzz off.”

Unfortunately, nothing has changed in the more than 20 years that has passed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Fundamental Contradiction of American Society?

The pie chart captures the total national media coverage (including online content) of the 2012 U.S. presidential candidates from the FDA's 7,921 data points (Foundation for Democratic Advancement, 2012).
It has become clear to me through my research at the Foundation for Democratic Advancement that American society, as an example and not exclusive to this society, functions with a fundamental deficiency, which likely prevents the society and country from attaining the highest public good.

On the one hand, the free market system is entrenched in American society, whereby "uncompetitive" economic practices are illegal and deterred. The American Sherman Anti-trust Act (1890) establishes the legal framework for uncompetitive practices in the American marketplace. From the 2012 FDA Electoral Fairness Audit Report on the United States:

U.S. antitrust laws are rooted in the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890), which provides remedy against monopoly or attempt to monopolize. The Act does not necessarily ban monopolies; it bans monopolies, which stem from anti-competitive conduct such as price fixing, bid rigging, or agreed market allocation by competitors (U.S. Department of Justice, 2012, and Wikipedia, Sherman Antitrust Act, 2012)

Interestingly, the U.S. legal system does not ban oligopolies and monopolies except in instances perceived as uncompetitive practices. The U.S. national television market, for example, is currently in a state of oligopoly with the three major television networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, with 82.2 percent television news market share in terms of the primetime news audience. There is no claim of uncompetitive practice against this oligopoly (FDA U.S. Media Study, 2012).

On the other hand, the U.S. federal electoral system is rooted in an oligopoly of two parties which is linked to uncompetitive practices. There is no mention of "uncompetitive" practices in the U.S. election legislation. Yet based on the 2012 FDA Audit Report on the United States, there is significant evidence that the U.S. electoral system functions from uncompetitive practices in the form of election laws which favors a two-party system:

Examples:

A. No expenditure limit on congressional candidates and privately funded presidential candidates: this provision favors candidates who are better fund raisers and encourages influence by wealthy special and minority interests.

B. Contributions are unreflective of U.S. per capita income: this provision favors wealthy citizens who can afford, for example, the $46,200 limit on contributions to multiple candidates.

C. No cap on contributions to independent third-parties: this provision favors wealthy individuals, corporations, and labor unions, and provides a means for special and minority interests to influence election discourse, and thus, election outcomes.

D. No cap on personal contributions by congressional candidates and privately funded presidential candidates: this provision favors wealthy candidates.

E. Expenditure limit on publicly funded presidential candidates and cap on personal contributions by publicly funded presidential candidates are unreflective of U.S. per capita income: this provision favors wealthy, publicly funded presidential candidates and candidates who are better able to fund raise, and thereby, potentially allows for influence by special and minority interests on these candidates (2012 FDA Electoral Audit Report on the United States).

F. No legislation to prevent gerrymandering may impact the voice of voters in electoral districts if those districts are set up to favor particular parties.

All these provisions favor the major political parties due to their entrenchment in the U.S. society and political system. In addition, there are no provisions to encourage competitive multi-party elections.

2. U.S. media legislation favors the two major parties by having no ownership concentration laws or code of coverage during electioneering periods. In addition, U.S. legislation on national debates is set up again to favor the two major parties by only requiring two parties in the debates and creating a high barrier entry of 15 percent of popular support. 

All these provisions favor the two major political parties due to their entrenchment in the U.S. society and the political system. In addition, there are no provisions to encourage competitive multi-party elections. 

Evidence of Uncompetitive U.S. Election Process:

1. The result of the U.S. federal electoral system is competitive between the two major parties, and no competition from any other party. This lack of competition from third-parties is illustrated by the media coverage of the 2012 Presidential Election, in which Obama and Romney received 98.75 percent of coverage in the last 32 days of the campaign, while all other parties received 1.25 percent (FDA U.S. Media Study, 2012).

2. The top five candidates have raised over $1 billion in direct campaign contributions - not including any money from super PACs. Mitt Romney raised $413,141,499 in direct campaign contributions, while Barack Obama raised $644,613,946. The top three third party candidates raised about $3.3 million combined (ProCon.org, 2012).

3. 2012 U.S. Popular vote and Electoral College votes are also evidence of uncompetitive multi-party electoral process:

Popular Vote Results:


ACTUAL RESULTS - POPULAR VOTE






Barack Obama


65,464,068

50.95%
Mitt Romney


60,781,275

47.31%
Gary Johnson


1,272,558

0.99%
Jill Stein


465,766

0.36%
Virgil Goode


121,114

0.09%
All Other Parties/Candidates


371,376

0.29%









128,476,157



Electoral College Vote Results:

Obama: 332 votes

Romney: 206 votes

All other presidential candidates: zero votes. 
 
Underlying the uncompetitive nature of U.S. elections barring the two major parties, the representatives in the U.S. Congress comprised of Republicans and Democrats pass the federal election laws. Based on the electoral system they have created, it is clear that they have no interest in a competitive election process for all registered parties. The leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties likely justify the U.S federal electoral system on grounds of healthy electoral competition between the two major parties, while ignore the lack of competition from any other party.

I can only conclude that the two U.S. federal parties have authoritarian streaks (rather than democratic streaks). If unchecked, these streaks may continue to undermine the American public good, in terms of the legitimacy of the federal electoral system and resulting public policies and laws, and continue to act as a fundamental contradiction in American society.

Consequences of the U.S. Federal Electoral System's Uncompetitive Nature:

1. Limitation on electoral discourse (rooted in uncompetitive processes)

2. Limitation on electoral choice (rooted in uncompetitive processes)

These two limitations impact American federal policy and legislation, and governmental leadership of the country with the American populous facing the repercussions. With less electoral competition, the better candidates may not be getting elected. (It may be argued that the primaries are inclusive of various candidates, but the primaries are limited to the two major parties. So any candidates who are not part of these parties, are left out.)

The premise behind these points is that fair competition, whether fair competition in the marketplace or in an election period, yields the best results as compared to other ways of interaction like selected competition or unfair competition.

For further discussion on these consequences, please listen to the Brian Seaman Interview:

Brian Seaman Issue of the U.S. Media and Two-Party System



 




Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director




Monday, December 17, 2012

Understanding the U.S. Media Coverage of the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election


The timeline chart (from the FDA's 2012 U.S. Election Media Study) captures the total media coverage of Obama and Romney, and in comparison to five major events in the last 32 days of the 2012 U.S. presidential election. In terms of overall coverage, Obama received an increase in coverage from four of the five key political events identified in the chart. As illustrated in the timeline chart, the FDA researchers observed declines in campaign coverage for each of the four weekend periods included in the study. These declines are the result of talk radio broadcasts not being aired on the weekends, and declines in campaign coverage during weekend periods for the press and television.

Obama received a more sustained increase in coverage and higher coverage from the 4th debate (or final 3rd presidential debate) than he received from Hurricane Sandy. In addition, Obama received the second highest daily coverage from the 3rd debate (or 2nd presidential debate). Obama had 192 data points compared to Romney's 162. During this period, the media attention was on Obama after his poor 1st debate performance and the Benghazi hearing. (The highest daily media coverage was on November 6th, Election Day.)

Only one day in this 32 day timeline of total media coverage did Romney eclipse the media coverage of Obama: October 10th—day of the Benghazi hearing. Romney had 138 data points compared to Obama's 126.

Data points refer to the media biases in the form of stories and information from the daily tracking by the FDA.

The correlation coefficient between Romney and Obama (based on total media exposure) is 0.97, meaning that the two move together in ALMOST a perfect, positive relationship.

A correlation coefficient can be in the range from minus 1, to positive 1. (A coefficient of zero means that there is no correlation, or no relationship at all).

A coefficient of minus one means that two sets of data (or two variables) are perfectly negatively correlated. This means that as one variable goes up, the other goes down in a precise and predictable relationship.

A coefficient of positive one means that two sets of data (or two variables) are perfectly positively correlated. This means that as one variable goes up, the other also goes up in a precise and predictable relationship.

FDA's 2012 U.S. Presidential Election Media Study







Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

Sunday, December 16, 2012

2012 FDA United States Presidential Election Media Study

ABC News, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, is part of the 2012 FDA U.S. Election Media Study. The study shows that the U.S. national television media had the least critical presidential campaign coverage as compared to the U.S. national newspaper and radio sectors.
Executive Summary:

The FDA measured significant bias in total campaign news coverage for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, 54 percent to 44.75 percent and almost non-existent campaign coverage of third-party presidential candidates. As examples, only one day in the last 32 days of the American presidential election did Romney have more news coverage than Obama, and Obama had overall more positive news coverage and less negative news coverage than Romney. The FDA’s total measurements correlate exactly in ranking to the U.S. popular vote results, and very similar in terms of percentages of candidates’ coverage and percentages of candidates’ popular votes with an average deviation of 1.07 percent. The FDA Media Study pertains to the last 32 days of the 2012 American Presidential Election. The FDA data collectors tracked media biases in the U.S. national newspaper, radio, and television sectors including online content, and collected 7,924 data points. The FDA data is based on 47.66 percent of the national newspaper market, 21.91 percent of the radio news/talk/information market, and 97.72 percent of the National News Networks, Cable News, and Public News market. Overall, the FDA media study presents significant evidence that the U.S. national media limited electoral discourse and influenced the 2012 U.S. presidential election outcome, rather than fully inform the American electorate about their electoral choices. Based on the 2012 FDA Electoral Fairness Audit Report on the U.S. and the media study measurements, the FDA recommends that the American national media be regulated through a legislated Code of Conduct during the 60 and 30 day federal electioneering periods, in order to support broad and balanced electoral discourse, and a fully informed electorate. Presently, the American federal electoral system allows U.S. national media companies/programs/shows to have an unregulated and imbalanced influence on electoral discourse, and ultimately undue influence on federal election outcomes, thereby undermining American democracy.

2012 FDA United States Presidential Election Media Study

2012 FDA Media Advisory on the U.S. Presidential Election Media Study


2012 FDA Media Study Team and Associates:

FDA Researchers:

Mr. Steve Finley, Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Purdue University, Master of Business Administration, Indiana University, and Juris Doctor, Valparaiso University.

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, University of British Columbia and Master of Philosophy in Environment and Development, University of Cambridge.

Ms. Arden Matheson, Bachelor of Arts, University of Alberta, Bachelor of Library Science, University of Alberta, and Master of Library Science, University of British Columbia.

FDA Data Collection Team:

Ms. Kelsey Angeley, Bachelor in Arts in Political Science, McGill University.

Mr. Michael Fabris, Bachelor of Accounting, Brock University.

Mr. Steve Finley, Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Purdue University, Master of Business Administration, Indiana University, and Juris Doctor, Valparaiso University.

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, University of British Columbia and Master of Philosophy in Environment and Development, University of Cambridge.

Ms. Jessica Lindal, Marketing Degree, SAIT Polytechnic, School of Business.

Mr. Dale Monette, Bachelor of Commerce, University of Saskatchewan and Master of Accounting (in progress), University of Saskatchewan.

Mr. James Porter, Bachelors of Commerce in Accounting, University of Calgary and Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy, University of Calgary

Ms. Christie Rehmann, Bachelor of Social Work, University of Calgary and Masters of Public Administration, University of Regina.

Ms. Leanna Seetahal, L.L.B., University of the West Indies.

Mr. Michael Stephens, Degree in Business intelligence, SAIT Polytechnic.

Ms. Mansharn Toor, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Sociology, University of Calgary.

Ms. Shumin Zeng, Bachelor of Computer Science, Southwestern University of Finance.

Data Tabulation:

Mr. Dale Monette, Bachelor of Commerce, University of Saskatchewan and Master of Accounting (in progress), University of Saskatchewan.

Statistical Data Analysis and Graphic Design:

Mr. Michael Fabris, Bachelor of Accounting, Brock University.

Report Writer:

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, University of British Columbia and Master of Philosophy in Environment and Development, University of Cambridge.

Report Reviewers:

Mr. Michael Fabris, Bachelor of Accounting, Brock University.

Mr. Steve Finley, Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Purdue University, Master of Business Administration, Indiana University, and Juris Doctor, Valparaiso University.

Ms. Arden Matheson, Bachelor of Arts, University of Alberta, Bachelor of Library Science, University of Alberta, and Master of Library Science, University of British Columbia.

Mr. Dale Monette, Bachelor of Commerce, University of Saskatchewan and Master of Accounting (in progress), University of Saskatchewan.

Mrs. Lindsay Tetlock, Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, University of Calgary and Master of Arts in Historical Studies, University of Calgary.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja Interview

Maryam Al-Khawaja is the acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. She is involved in documenting human and political rights abuses in Bahrain and influencing foreign governments to act against the Bahraini Kingdom.
In this podcast, Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement Executive Director, interviews Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Maryam is filling in for Nabeel Rajab, who is currently imprisoned in Bahrain for various charges such as calling an illegal gathering and insulting a Bahraini official over twitter. Maryam discusses the current human rights situation in Bahrain including the state of the Bahraini media and conditions in Bahraini prisons. In addition, she discusses the geostrategic politics of Bahrain involving the United States and other western powers, and these countries' unwillingness to put their spoken values and principles before their perceived self-interest. Maryam argues that this self-interested approach of western governments in particular the United States to Bahrain is counter productive in the long term, because the Bahraini people will ultimately be triumphant over the Bahraini Kingdom, and in the process the American government will create enemies rather than friends, not to mention diminish its credibility. In consideration of the Bahraini parliament, she says that this government body is a democratic facade because the elected lower house, Council of Deputies, has no monetary and legislative authority, and gerrymandering ensures that the majority of the officials in the Council of Deputies are pro-Kingdom, rather than representative of the voice of Bahrainis. Finally, Maryam draws parallels with the ongoing struggle in Syria, and shares her perspective on the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and how it relates to Bahrain. For non-mainstream, insightful, and provocative discussion from people working in the field of international politics, listen in or download the FDA podcasts.

This podcast and any other FDA podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the FDA. The FDA supports broad and diverse speech.

FDA Report on Electoral Fairness in Bahrain

Maryam Al-Khawaja Interview

FDA RSS Feed

Friday, December 14, 2012

Reconciling the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election Results


In reconciling the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election result in which Obama received 50.95 percent of the popular vote and Romney 47.31 percent, the FDA looks among other things at the campaign coverage. Was the American electorate fully informed of all presidential candidates and their policies? Was there balanced campaign coverage?

In consideration of the last 32 days of the U.S. Presidential Election and the FDA's U.S. Media Study involving 7,924 data points on the U.S. national media's election coverage, Barack Obama received 9.25 percent more U.S. national media coverage than Mitt Romney, 54 percent to 44.75 percent. In addition, Obama received more total positive news coverage than Romney and less total negative news coverage than Romney. Third-party presidential candidates were almost non-existent with a combined 1.25 percent of the total national news coverage (compared to 98.75 percent for Obama and Romney).

The question arises: is it the role of the media during elections to influence the election outcome or to help fully inform the electorate? If it is the former, the results above say that the U.S. national media did its role well, by being biased to Obama and completely disregarding third-party candidates. If it is the latter, then the results above are evidence that the U.S. presidential election outcome may lack legitimacy.






Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

U.S. National Television Media: Ownership Concentration Issue


As part of the U.S. Media Study, the Foundation for Democratic Advancement looked at media ownership concentration in the U.S. national newspaper, radio, and television sectors. The FDA found only one instance of major ownership issue in the national television sector. Using 2012 viewership data from the Pew Research Center's report, "2012 State of the News Media", NBC Nightly News, ABC World News, and CBS Evening News have 82.22 percent of the American prime time television news market. All other news networks, cable networks including CNN and Fox News, and public news networks have a combined 17.88 percent of that market.

Related to these market percentages and from the FDA's U.S. Media Study comprised of 7,924 data points, the U.S. national television sector was the least critical in content as compared to the U.S. national newspaper and radio sectors. Also, there is cross-ownership between the three media sectors, so the three large U.S. broadcast companies have even more influence over the American electorate. For example, CBS Corporation owns 29 television stations and CBS Radio and 130 radio stations.

The United States through anti-trust laws regulates ownership concentration strictly from the standpoint of uncompetitive practices. In contrast, Norway as an example directly regulates media ownership concentration from the percentage ownership by capping the percentage of national media ownership by a corporation and/or individual. In other democracies, France regulates political content and bans commercial political advertisements among other things during election periods, and Bolivia regulates the ownership spectrum of the broadcast and radio media sectors in terms of 1/3 licenses for the private sector, 1/3 licenses for the government sector, and 1/3 for the non-profit/indigneous sector.

Media ownership concentration is a democratic issue when a small minority of media owners control large portions of the media market, so that they are in a position to influence significantly the electorate and limit the electoral discourse. From the U.S. Media Report, the FDA has strong evidence that the U.S. national media coverage of the last 32 days of the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election favoured significantly Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, and coverage of third-party presidential candidates was practically non-existent.








Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director






Question for Readers:

Is the media's role during an election to influence the outcome of the election or to help fully inform the electorate of all their electoral choices?