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 A/V REPORTS
BBC Radio Ulster's Ruth McDonald:
"This election sees the birth of a new election weapon"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Success on the internet?
Internet cafe, Shanghai
Did they check out Sinn Fein in Shanghai?
After the dust settles, Northern Ireland's political parties will be judging how effective a tool the internet has been during this campaign.

Most parties have had websites for a few years but this time the parties say the net has been an important way of trying to bypass the media to get across an unedited message.

The DUP's webmaster Jonathon Robinson admits figures from their monthly breakdown show most of their hits are from the United States rather than local users.

Browsing the net
Did the DUP go down well in Dubai?
But he said the party still valued the medium: "It offers people an opportunity to put their point of view across in a way which is unedited and uncensored by other media outlets."

The SDLP sees its site not only as its noticeboard for members of the global public, but appears to regard itself as having done journalists a favour too.

It provides links to all sorts of international and local news media websites.

Press officer Barry Turley said: "When we were putting it together we wanted it to be something for the media to use and for people to be able to shift around on."

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton features on the SDLP website
The SDLP website features Bill Clinton in an attempt to build on what it sees as party leader John Hume's reputation as an international statesman.

Sinn Fein also gets inspiration from the United States. Michael Nolan said the party was originally introduced to the idea of going www by American supporters.

The party admits its site is due for a design facelift but says it has lots of comprehensive material on the party as well as a well-stocked merchandise section.

Joanne Murphy is the Ulster Unionist Party's IT specialist. In the seven years she has worked for the party she has seen the internet weaned from infancy into a world wide weapon.

She said: "I think its advantages certainly outweigh its disadvantages.

"The party launched its first website in November 1995, we're now onto our third one!"

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