Access to Media in Other Nations: Election Campaign Ads


Access to Media:

Topic of 1987 Van Zelst Report

by Franklyn S. Haiman

Dialogue, Spring, 1987, School of Speech, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60201

In an era when media ownership is concentrated among a small number of conglomerates, do citizens and political candidates have an adequate forum for expressing a diversity of opinions to the reading and viewing public?

Franklyn S. Haiman, professor of communication studies at Northwestern and a leading authority on freedom of speech, explored that question as he discussed his research on four different democratic societies in this year’s Van Zeist Research Report. Entitled “Citizen Access to the Media: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Four Democratic Societies,” the lecture was presented in January on the Evanston campus.

“Maintaining a diversity of opinion is a difficult problem due to the growing centralization of media,” Haiman said. “Democratic countries may be able to learn from one another.”

To this end, Haiman spent approximately ten months during 1985 and 1986 in Japan, France, and the Netherlands, studying opportunities for ordinary citizens and political candidates in each country to express their views on radio, television, and in major daily newspapers, and comparing these opportunities with those available in the United States.

While Haiman found some similarities among the four democracies, he also discovered policies in Japan, France, and the Netherlands that alleviate the exorbitant campaign costs that are common in the United States. These policies include government-subsidized political literature, free broadcast time, and the elimination of TV spot advertisements.

In France, free broadcast time consists of 25 minutes on the public broadcasting channels each weeknight during the last two weeks of the election campaign, divided among the parties roughly in proportion to the number of seats they hold in Parliament. A certain percentage of this time is devoted to film clips and interviews; during the remaining portion, the candidates speak as “talking heads.” In Japan and Holland, free time is divided equally among the parties, regardless of size, and continues all year long. Haiman said, “I find the idea of free time attractive because it eliminates the most expensive part of the campaign costs. On the other hand, the programming, as it is done now, tends to be so dull that not many people listen to it.”

France, Holland, and Japan each have unique provisions of access. Under an 1881 press law, anyone in France mentioned in a newspaper or magazine— negatively or positively—has the right of equal space to reply. For the broadcast media, the Right to Reply Law extends only to those whose reputations have been injured.

A large number of debates and interviews are also programmed by French radio and television networks. One popular TV interview program features a single guest and three correspondents, each of whom has an uninterrupted 15-minute block of time in which to interview the guest. “The correspondent is thus able to pursue a subject in depth,” Haiman said. “A politician can’t easily get away with glib, prepared answers.” Guests from opposing parties debate each other in France as in the United States, but Haiman added that “there is a tremendous amount of spontaneous interruption in France. The more aggressive get more time. It’s survival of the fittest.”

Under Holland’s unique system of radio and television programming, approximately 20 percent of each day’s programming is allocated to a governmental broadcasting body. The remainder is split among several broadcasting organizations, each with historic links to a political or religious element. In Japan, culture plays a large role in attitudes toward media and freedom of speech. “The ideas of individualism and aggressively expressing a point of view are alien in Japan,” Haiman said. “The group is more important than the individual, and consensus, rather than confrontation, is the supreme goal. Nonverbal communication is more important, and verbal expression is less so, than in the United States. Our system emphasizes equality, while the Japanese are much more conscious of status differences.”

Haiman’s conclusions were drawn from opinion advertising, letters to the editor, free air time, interview programs, and news coverage of speech and rallies. In Japan and Holland, Haiman interviewed academics in law and communications, government officials, political party leaders, journalists, and media executives. In France, he relied less on interviews and more on his own monitoring of the newspapers and television programming, particularly in the weeks prior to the French election of March 1986.

The Van Zeist Research Report is the product of a year of research by the holder of the Van Zeist Professorship in Communication, established at the School of Speech in 1981 with an endowment from Mr. and Mrs. Theodore W. Van Zelst. The gift also provides for the Van Zeist Lecture in Communication, held in the spring.

Haiman has been a member of the Northwestern faculty since 1948 and chaired the department of communication studies for 11 of those years. A member of the national board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), he has been the organization’s national secretary and president of its Illinois branch. He also is a member of the Speech Communication Association and founder and former chairman of its Commission on Freedom of Speech. Among his books are Speech and Law in a Free Society (1981), which won the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award.

Published on November 30, 2006 at 2:52 pm  Comments (17)  

17 Comments

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  14. JFD, the author of this blog (emergent79)says: Prof. Haiman was one of my professors at Northwestern University. He is one of the most outstanding teachers of FREEDOM OF SPEECH in the U.S. And he was my teacher in another course on group dynamics. I wanted to honor him by putting up this summary of his research which he presented in a special lecture at N.U. Besides, there is information there about campaigns around the world. Believe it or not, there are other nations in the world, and some of them have political campaigns! There are also some people who may be interested in those facts, so now, thanks to Prof. Haiman and also to me, those facts can have an added audience. Isn’t that special!

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    [On November 30, 2007 at 3:16 pm JFD, the author of this blog, replied:
    Absolutely nothing. It is totally irrelevant to anything that is happening in the U.S. I am so sorry I put it up. It’s a total embarrassment to me. Please forgive me. You have taught me that we cannot learn by indirection to find direction out. If I could give you back the time to write your little sentence, I would certainly do so. Again, I am sorry to have inconvenienced you.]


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