Media & Elections in Canada


163 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-03-921666-7




Reviewed by Terrence Paris

Terrence Paris is Public Services Librarian at Mount St. Vincent
University in Halifax.


A team of University of Windsor political scientists present their analysis of the political information transmitted by the print and electronic media to the Canadian electorate during the campaigns of 1979 and 1980. They also review the history of political journalism in Canada and successive government efforts, both persuasive and regulatory, to encourage the privately and publicly owned media to reinforce the reality of Canada as a nation-state. The literature review of relevant American and Canadian studies is extensive.

Integral to the research are the gatekeeper and agenda-setting concepts adapted by Wilbur Schramm and David White to news flows. A gate-keeper is “any social institution, social context, activity or thing that has, as a consequence of its characteristics or behavior, the effect of modifying media content.” The macro-gates are type of medium, and the organizational and cultural environments. For the electronic media of radio and television, the cultural contexts are the French and English languages and the organization is the network (CBC, CTV, Global) transmitting the news. For the print medium, the organization of chains and independents, and the cultural environments of language and region are considered significant. The cumulative effect of the gatekeeping processes is to set an agenda, one that is able to effect cognitive change among individuals.

The researchers taped the news broadcasts of the 1979 and 1980 campaigns and examined election stories in 23 newspapers during the 1979 campaign. Thematic content and evaluative material were analyzed and coded. The gates were found to be open to a similar range of issues; they did not serve to filter the amount or type of information reaching the electorate. Nor was McCluhan’s dictum, “the medium is the message,” supported; both media have similar agendas — national in scope and little influenced by language or regional prejudices. Politicians appear to set the agenda for the media to follow; the media do not challenge with an alternate agenda.

It is somewhat surprising that a study devoted to the effect of the media on politics should so briefly address the role of partisan television advertising. The researchers do, however, examine the “Americanization” of Canadian politics: the high priority given to stories about the prime minister as national leader, the emphasis on image, and the “horserace” aspects of polls and strategies, all at the expense of substantive policy analysis. It is not difficult to understand why the media are so often accused of encouraging confrontation and negativism, of relying on the transitory impact of images rather than on informing the electorate on important issues of public policy. Because the 1984 campaign confirmed most of the tendencies evident in 1979 and 1980, all Canadians interested in the current state of political journalism will gain insight from this book.


Soderlund, Walter C., and others, “Media & Elections in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,