Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Digital Politics in Oz: The Rhetoric of the Image

While the use of digital media in a political campaign is well worn ground in the USA, the concept has just taken off in Australia for the upcoming (not yet announced) Federal Election. According to the Sydney Morning Herald in "Campaign '07 ... baby kissing is out and hip websites and video clips are in". Yesterday the opposition candidate and leader of the Federal Labor Party Kevin Rudd launched his own website, complete with forums, blog, a shop and archive. Both the Prime Minister and Rudd have been releasing videos on YouTube, to somewhat mixed responses:

But professionals who specialise in web marketing have criticised Mr Howard's approach, saying he has tried too hard to control the message when the main benefit of online campaigning is to actively engage the audience.

In Howard's Youtube message on Climate Change comments were deleted and spam took over the site. At the time of writing the comments have been completely disabled. The visual image of John Howard sitting at a desk in a suit and tie flanked by the Australian flag and beginning his message with "Good Morning" seems little removed from the TV appearances of politicians that began in the 1960s. Such an arrangement is an interesting example of intermediation that attempts to fit the digital format back into an analogue box.

Now for Kevin Rudd's videos. Rudd is also adopting the format of television but in a far more engaging style than Howard. His Australia Day Message video is a slick piece of mini doco and personality piece. It is clear he has taken to the medium assisted by some people who know what they are doing. Visually rich and integrating music, voice overs and cross fades. The comments section is not exactly overflowing (35 at the time of writing) I suspect they are being managed but there are some particularly negative ones ("kevin rudd and gillard are left wing communists, put them on the first plane to russia." Crompton58) so it is not being done that heavy handed.

A third example of political messages on YouTube comes from the Green Party. In somewhat more imaginative approach, "Australian Greens climate spokesperson Senator Christine Milne joins forces with Eskimo productions and comedian John Clarke to reflect on climate change action." in video entitled The Polar Bears. It is surreal and humorous with a parable like message for viewers.

The Polar Bears was posted on February 17 2007 and has had 10,884 views. The Rudd video was posted on January 25, 2007 and has had 2,867 views. The Howard video was posted on July 16, 2007 and has had 58,204 views. Ratings for each are four stars, three stars and two stars respectively.

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