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Phases of Political Communication – First Phase

Here we examine the first phase of political communications through the lens of British politics and the media.

Jay Blumler and Dennis Kavanagh provide a useful way of categorising the changes in the relationship between the media and politics with their model of the Three Phases of Political Communication (Political Communication Volume 16, No 3, 1999)

In the first phase, from the creation of the mass male electorate in 1885 until the 1950s, the media is politics led with the media reporting what politicians believe to be important, which are the principles and policies that they support and the differences from their opponents.

The media portray a general confidence in political institutions. Campaigning is mostly face-to-face with voters or by leaflets and is constituency focussed, though the main party politicians give national speeches which are reported more or less verbatim in the national press.

Political leaders only engage in short term and ad hoc development of strategies during the election period, although, by the 1920s, there is a central party organisation that attempts to develop national campaigns.

There is a partisan press at national and local levels but, even here, there tends to be a separation between reporting and editorial comment.

The newspapers cover politics, looking to report on developments and how they are interpreted by politicians and speech are reported in full and there is fairly extensive coverage of what is said in the House of Commons and House of Lords. This sort of coverage is limited today.

The political correspondents may briefly cover what politicians say but will mostly give an interpretation of it. Now the only direct coverage of what politicians are saying is on the BBC Parliament Channel which broadcasts proceeding live and recordings of some Select Committees and the BBC radio programme Today in Parliament. To fill the 24 hour news demands they will also cover key speeches by the leading party politicians live but often cut away.