Media bias mapped

A new on-line resource is giving Canadian voters insight into the influence of advertising and media coverage on voting decisions.

The “Mapping the Media in the Americas” project launched at the University of Calgary Tue., Jan. 17 with the unveiling of the Canadian portion of the 12-country project. The resource compiles official data into an interactive map that visually demonstrates the location and ownership of Canadian media in relation to the demographic profiles of the electoral districts they reach.

Although the technology uses the same software as complicated geographical information systems, developers stressed the aim was to create a tool that will help voters understand the issues behind political finance reform.

“The website is designed to be as simple as possible,” said senior GIS analyst Chantal Hansen. “Obviously a lot of people are not geographists. The beauty of GIS is you’re actually able to view a pattern right away without having to view columns and rows of data.”

Canada is the first of 12 countries in the western hemisphere to be mapped using the GIS software. The GIS software organizes vast amounts of data into layers which can be turned on or off and searched for specific correlations. Hansen said Canada was unique because of the quality and quantity of available data, noting the next step will be similar launches in Peru and Guatemala.

“Canada was chosen because it is an exemplary model of how campaign financing and media has been working well,” she said. “GIS is still only developing in Latin America.”

The project is a collaboration between the University of Calgary Latin American Research Centre, the Canadian Foundation for the Americas and the Carter Centre. The difficulty behind the political finance issue is ensuring wealthier or more influential interests don’t have unfair access to media coverage, said U of C Latin American Research Centre Chair Dr. Stephen Randall.

“We don’t want to draw conclusions with this,” said Randall. “We want to provide a tool. Any individual who wants to look at this will find a tremendous amount of information.”

Both Hansen and Randall said several Latin American countries are unique in the scope of their problems with issues such as the conglomeration of media into fewer hands and unequal access to media resources between the ruling parties and opposition.

“The quality of data in Latin America is much less satisfactory and much less available,” said Randall. “But we have some of these issues [in Canada] too.”

The Canadian site includes visual maps illustrating the last election results colour-coded by region, the location, range and ownership of television and radio broadcast towers throughout the country, newspaper offices and a variety of demographic information. Layers can be compared at will and the site provides links and query functions to further information. The project began in August 2004 and Randall hopes to have full autonomy for each country involved by the completion date of July 2007.

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