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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Should party political broadcasts be scrapped?
Party political broadcasts could be scrapped in favour of short advertisements in a bid to tackle voter apathy.

The broadcasts were partly blamed for exacerbating chronic voter apathy at the last general election.

The proposal to replace the broadcasts with short American-style election adverts has been greeted with scepticism by some MPs. Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, said the idea represented the triumph of "spin and presentation over political substance".

In America, short election adverts are often criticised for adopting shock tactics and over-simplifying issues in an effort to catch the attention of voters with short attention spans.

Should political broadcasts be abolished? Would short US-style adverts encourage more people to vote?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

They are a useful medium for getting a message across

David Stanley, UK
No, they shouldn't be banned. They are a useful medium for getting a message across. Sure, many people find them boring, even annoying, but many of us feel the same way about soap operas, game shows and "reality" TV. Our British democracy is by no means perfect but it's a lot better many other country's systems. Let's improve it where we can but not by trying to appease the lazy and politically illiterate couch potato.
David Stanley, UK

Simple question: why do politicians, if they claim to tell the truth - even as they see it - need the alchemists of the communication age to turn their base-metal policies, opinions and outpourings into the gold of some higher truth? Simple syllogism: advertising experts are there to bend the facts to fit something; politicians use advertising experts; therefore politicians seek to bend the facts.
Andy Armitage, West Wales, UK

Party political broadcasts are just an excuse for local candidates to avoid canvassing.
R Sobrany, UK

"Yes" because I want to know who pays for their airtime on TV

R. Campbell, South Africa
"Yes" because I want to know who pays for their airtime on TV. Is it the taxpayer again? They skirt around the real issues that need to be solved and don't speak plainly enough about what they intend to do for the man in the street. Then when they get into power they forget who put them there and still dodge issues that really need attention! I think that after one year the people should have another vote to test whether or not the public thinks that the newly picked government are doing a good job or living up to their promises!
R. Campbell, South Africa

Why not allow each party one half-hour of prime time - eg 8pm on a Wednesday - over all 5 terrestrial networks at the same time? Possibly some of the most effective broadcasts in recent years were Ross Perot's "infomercials" in the 1992 US Presidential election, and something like that - for the novelty value, at least - might actually get people watching. There would also be time to discuss and explain policies clearly - something you don't get in a 5 minute broadcast and certainly not in a 30 second commercial.
Keith Legg, UK

In 1997 I was 17, and very frustrated that, although I was more interested than most of my classmates, I couldn't vote while they could, because I was too young. I decided to get more knowledgeable by listening to Party Political Broadcasts on the radio. Well, that was a clever idea - I don't think. They were funny, certainly. They were beautifully witty - criticisms of their opponents! This told me nothing about how I should cast my vote - it was just as well I didn't have one, since I was so disgusted I probably wouldn't have used it.

I've been involved for the last year or so in my Students' Union, where we have a strictly-adhered-to rule that no candidate may mention another candidate in a negative way during publicity. I appreciate that this wouldn't be easy to enforce - but just doing it somehow would make a world of difference to me. Let's have Positive Publicity!
Jenny, UK

They are all appalling and serve no useful purpose whatsoever

Vince Summers, Scotland
I don't know anyone who can actually face watching or listening to a party political broadcast! They are all appalling and serve no useful purpose whatsoever.
Vince Summers, Scotland

These broadcasts would be worthwhile if they actually informed the viewer of the policies and intentions of the party in question, instead of being nothing more than an attack on their respective opponents. I would like to know why I should vote for a particular candidate/ party as opposed to why I should not vote for another.
Paul Whelan, London, England

Political broadcasts get low ratings for the same reason other entertainment does - because they're not entertaining.
Quentin Holt, New Zealand

Maybe a different alternative could be 'It's a party knockout' presented by Keith Chegwin

Ben Ives, UK
Scrap the Party Political Broadcasts certainly. Maybe a different alternative could be 'It's a party knockout' presented by Keith Chegwin. In this format each party could prove its worth with acrobatics. This way I would most certainly take them more seriously than I do now.
Ben Ives, London, UK

End all advertised party political material - let the politicians get out there and talk to people again. Adverts = opium for the masses, to coin a phrase. The more 'seductive' an advert, the more you should distrust the message.
Mary Adams, UK

If you think politics is boring, try getting involved with an election campaign

Matthew Salter, UK
Shame on you all! If I hear one more 'politics is boring', 'politicians are only in it for themselves', 'political parties should be abolished' or other lame epithet parroted directly from the tabloid press, I will scream. All such accusations are simply devices to excuse the fact that most of you are too lazy and ignorant to get involved with politics. Democracy is a two-way street, don't forget - you can't simply expect to be waited on hand and foot by the political parties trying to dream up *just the exact* package of policies to suit your every whim.

If you think politics is boring, try getting involved with an election campaign or joining a party or issue group. Educate yourselves! Try learning about how economies work, how the legal system operates, about taxation and health provision etc. Don't forget that even if you don't watch PPBs or vote in elections, somebody else will and there will still be a government of whichever colour, whatever you do. So don't tell me that politics is boring - how can it be when it concerns the running of the country? It is much easier to mouth off about how boring politics is than it is to have the courage to get involved yourself.
Matthew Salter, UK

Is it too much to ask for at least a little honesty?

Chris Hann, USA (Brit)
British politics are at least partly responsible for my decision to leave the country. Is it too much to ask for at least a little honesty? Even as a child I remember listening to the party political broadcasts and wondering if anyone believed these people and didn't think they were just hungry for power and saying what they thought would work.
Chris Hann, USA (Brit)

If you want to end any resemblance of democracy start selling advertising US style where the person with the most money is selected. Most Americans would rejoice if they had the UK's system, the apathy is there because the same old rubbish is peddled every election.
Douglas Kay, USA

End party political broadcasts? The best thing to do would be to outlaw political parties. That way, we will vote for people who represent us rather than a ideology dreamed up by some long-dead philosopher whose closest experience with real life was buying a coffee somewhere near his university-paid house.
Ben RG, UK

They at least allow the time for parties to explain their policies

David, Canada
I would wholeheartedly oppose doing away with PPBs. They at least allow the time for parties to explain their policies (though they often choose not to do so) and they ration TV time reasonably fairly amongst the competing parties. The banal election advertising we see in Canada merely reflects the degree of corporate funding behind the parties and allows for little else than inane slogans repeated ad nauseam until the voters are heartily sick of all the parties.
David, Canada

30 seconds is too short. Give the candidates three minutes. Monotonous grey background, no music and all they should be allowed to do is talk. One pie chart allowed. It may sound boring, but if there is one thing that bores people more it is spin and glitz.
Manu, Belgium

Most definitely YES! Instead, let's have more Tom and Jerry. It's far more entertaining and has a greater 'reality' content.
Gary Dale, England

If the broadcasts created apathy it was because of the politics, not the broadcasts themselves.
James Owen, UK

I'm not sure whether they should be scrapped or not. I would have to see how they develop after a far more important and pressing change - political promotion is now the only form of advertising in the UK which is exempt from the requirement to be legal, decent, honest and truthful.
Guy Chapman, UK

No - back to the drawing board folks

Philip S Hall, UK
If anyone thinks that ordinary advertising will cure voter apathy, just sit and watch cable or satellite TV for a couple of hours! I find the style and timing of modern commercials absolutely sickening! No - back to the drawing board folks.
Philip S Hall, England, UK

Thirty seconds of film would be able to convey very powerful political ideas - but it still won't make the couch potatoes get off their backsides and vote!
Dean, UK

As a TV student I understand how television needs to be punchy and to the point, in order to catch a viewer's eye in the crowded multi-channel arena. However, this leads to massive simplification of any subject. It destroys the need for viewers to think about what they are watching and encourages them to be lazy as the marketing men pander to their desire of easy, relaxed viewing.
We need people to really think about political issues not jump to conclusions because one party has a better advert than the other.
The broadcasts should be relevant and easy to understand, but this can be done with thought and effort on the part of politicians. Not by some PR whiz with a PC capable of fancy title sequences and a head full of jazzy slogans.
Chris Phillips, UK

If someone's attention span is so short that they can only be kept watching for a 30 second advert I'd have to ask if they're the sort of people upon whom the outcome of an election should rest.
This is quite frankly an absurd idea. Considering the fuss there was at the last election concerning the 'dumbing down' of politics, this is a surprising step to be considering.
Bill, UK

How can you meaningfully squeeze political policies into 30-second time slot?

Alex Chiang, Australia
Bad idea. We have both here in Australia, and exactly as most of your respondents predict, the ads are the most inane exercises in tabloid style scare-mongering you could imagine. They make discount carpet store ads appear thought-provoking. How can you meaningfully squeeze political policies into 30-second time slot?
Alex Chiang, Australia

A "turn off" for viewers? What, do people have to be entertained at everything nowadays? What selfishness! Can't people tend to more serious things for just 30 minutes?

"American style" election adverts cause a degeneration of the issues down to focus group tested soundbyte partisan sniping and sheer propaganda, they're all imagery and hype, no fact is presented at all. They're the worst part of our electoral system.

Honestly, I'd rather have the longer format broadcasts. Too bad people are just plain too lazy to bother to watch or get involved in the process.
Stephen, USA

I can't understand why your country continues the relentless Americanisation of your politics

Richard, United States
Sounds like an idea straight out of Downing Street, and a typically bad one at that. It is near to impossible to convey a substantive political message in 30 seconds. I can't understand why your country continues the relentless Americanisation of your politics. If there is any aspect of our elections you definitely shouldn't emulate, it's the spin-laden, bumper sticker political ad.

I love my country, but our political system leaves much to be desired. And I would rather the apathetic and ill-informed not vote, anyway. At least with PPBs there's an opportunity to hear an in-depth explanation of a party's philosophy. No one is forced to watch.
Richard, United States

New Zealand did away with these broadcasts years ago and the media don't even cover the main party conferences any more. Yet interest in politics is very high. Without legislation making voting compulsory there is an 85% minimum turnout (sometimes over 90%) in national elections.

Holding the vote on the weekend or allowing postal votes is far more important than having party ads or whatever.
Dave Smith, New Zealand

It is not fair to compare a political broadcast with something like an advertisement of sorts. Politicians from all parties should be able to communicate to their people about their plans and actions.

Voter apathy in a single election cannot be attributed to the broadcast issue. It could be due to a number of other reasons. Democracy cannot be and should not be globalised (read Americanised). UK and India have enough of wisdom of their own to run their system in their own way.
Ashok Kumar R, India

I strongly disagree about banning political party broadcasts. How else are we meant to find out what the parties offer? Its not as if party leaders can tour around every single constituency. They could use their candidates but from what I have seen in my constituency West Ham (Tony Banks), candidates don't campaign that much!
Shawab, UK

Well, they do more to promote voter apathy that anything else.
John Dickson, Scotland

Voter apathy exists because people have lost faith in politicians of all parties. They only want your vote at election time, and once they are in power they all completely ignore the wishes of the people who voted them in. Most people see Political parties as shallow, arrogant and totally deaf.
Keith Simpson, UK

The alternative of US style ads replacing them would be appalling

Neil, UK
Party broadcasts may not be the most exciting of programmes but they do at least provide a platform for a direct message from each party to the voters without the interference of journalists, interviewers or commentators. The alternative of US style ads replacing them would be appalling. Not enough time for a real message, just enough time to drag politics further into the gutter.
Neil, UK

Party Political Broadcasts should be scrapped, but not in favour of anything else. Let the politicians earn our votes with their actions, rather than spin and TV campaigns.
Jeremy, UK

I agree with Dean from Canada and Jeremy from the UK. Politics is not entertainment as people's lives and livelihoods are at stake. Politicians should earn their positions by their actions and not by the use of the media.
Phil Tunnell, Oman

The idea of turning political broadcasts into advertisements is terrible. I believe that voting in an election is slightly more important than choosing a brand of toothpaste. Perhaps the rules for political broadcasts should be changed. The negative campaigning aspect of many of them has increased tenfold. Parties should be forced to talk about their own polices and achievements - not rubbish others'.
David Heffron, Glasgow

Democracy is not entertainment and entertainment is not democracy. The people of the USA have confused this issue and the whole world can see the results.
Dean, Canada

Can we get rid of political parties too?

Richard Ormson, UK
Can we get rid of political parties too? Voting for candidates on their merits rather than affiliation, we may stand a chance of having a representative democracy instead of the elected dictatorship we have at present.
Richard Ormson, UK

Party political broadcasts have been blamed for the British voters' indifference in the last general elections. The plan to replace them with short U.S. style poll adverts might change people's attitude to some extent. But the real reason why people in many parts of the world are apathetic towards elections is simply because politicians have consistently failed to live up to their expectations.

Often, be it in the Third World or the rich industrialised West, politicians make all kinds of impractical promises before the polls only to forget them once the verdict is given. When the electorate is let down by their representatives in Parliament, they naturally tend to boycott the next hustings.
Albert Devakaram, India

Will every party be guaranteed an identical airtime allowance, or will it be a case of the party with the most money gets the most airtime?
Alex Banks, UK, living in Holland

American-style ads are all about slating the opposition, "twisting" the evidence and finding dirt to dish

Iain Alexander, UK
Oh yes please? PPB's are the single most boring thing ever to appear on television!
American-style ads are all about slating the opposition, "twisting" the evidence and finding dirt to dish.
Maybe the answer is to not have anything at all on the television from political parties, maybe then politicians might be more inclined to actually go into the prospective constituency and talk to the people?
Iain Alexander, UK

Not the most interesting viewing Party Political Broadcasts. Really the best time to make a drink. To combat voter apathy it is the nature of the politicians and their policies that needs to change. They always preach the same message, always the same arguments. It's dull. They are dull. Changing the medium will not change the content.
Julian, England

Boring though the political broadcasts are, I would hate to see them replaced with expensive adverts, because that would put our leaders completely at the mercy of corporations (even more than they are already).
Simon, UK

In a word, yes. Apart from anything, they're extremely boring!
Matthew, England

If the UK political parties start treating their electorate with such contempt, then not only would I refuse to vote

Hugh, UK
Party political broadcasts may be dull, but things could be much worse. I was living in the US during the Bush-Dukakis election campaign and thoroughly resented being bludgeoned repeatedly with 30 second advertisements, full of negativity, complete with gimmicky slogans that meant absolutely nothing, and shamelessly pandering to the most idiotic and uninformed potential voter.
If the UK political parties start treating their electorate with such contempt, then not only would I refuse to vote - I'd probably emigrate!
Hugh, UK

Party Political Broadcasts only happen at election time - at most once a year. If people can't be bothered to watch them, they should be capable of changing the channel on their TV. If not, I'm not sure they should even be trusted with a vote!
Patrick Mahon, England

Well, the electricity board would be glad to see the back of them, no doubt. Every time they are on there is a huge surge in demand as half the nation goes out to make a cup or tea.
Malcolm McMahon, UK

Given that the US has an even lower voter turnout than we do (often less than 50% even for presidential elections), the idea that US-style political adverts could encourage more people to vote seems fundamentally flawed if not openly absurd.
Daniel Kitto, UK

The short, nasty, "attack advertisements" which are so popular here encourage voter cynicism, not participation

Patrick Morris-Suzuki, United States
Some western democracies, such as Australia and Belgium, have mandatory voting. For an example, any eligible voter who fails to vote without good cause in Australia will pay a 50 Australian dollar (18.455 pound) fine. It is enough to ensure that the vast majority of Australians vote. Think of it as being like jury service, perhaps.
As for political advertisements, America's voter turnout is much lower that Britain's. The short, nasty, "attack advertisements" which are so popular here encourage voter cynicism, not participation.
Patrick Morris-Suzuki, United States

The idea of moving even closer to the US system fills me with horror. What turns the electorate off faster than anything else is the negative campaigning and short US style ads will only encourage this trend. We don't want to hear why the other lot are so bad, we want to hear why a party deserves our support.
Andy, UK

It would be far better to have several short political commercials like they have in the United States. Party political broadcasts are a real turn off for most viewers. They are tedious, charmless and lack all manner of wit. A minute-long commercial would force the parties to get straight to the point without forcing us to change the channel out of sheer boredom.
Leon, UK

A distinct and proper choice between parties would "tackle voter apathy." Fewer self-serving politicians would help too.
Matthew, England

Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, said the idea represented the triumph of "spin and presentation over political substance". Der! Wake up Roger that was exactly what people thought when they saw the broadcasts for the last election. I'm not convinced adverts will be better, but they will be shorter. Alternatively they could start putting some substance in them, but then we'd notice there is so little to choose between them.
Andy, UK

I think apathy is a symptom of a much greater problem - that people here in the UK take democracy for granted and therefore don't see any point in voting. Look at East Timor - I'll bet the turnout there was over 90%. Why? Because democracy is something they do not take for granted. Unfortunately, history suggests that apathy only really disappears during or after conflict situations.
Wesley, Northern Ireland, UK

See also:

31 Aug 01 | UK Politics
US-style ads could tackle turnout
29 May 01 | TV and Radio
Politics and freedom of expression
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