Politics on the Net

If the major parties' initial TV pitches for this month's election have been broadly received as more-of-the-same, the same can't be said for the way a range of interests have used the Internet this time around.

If the major parties’ initial TV pitches for this month’s election have been broadly received as more-of-the-same, the same can’t be said for the way a range of interests have used the Internet this time around. As per the last poll, even minor parties are offering Web sites to woo potential voters and fuel the faithful. But National took it a stage further last weekend when it provided a technically impressive Web cast of its Auckland campaign launch. With the Labour-aligned Engineers’ Union having already turned its Web site into a vehicle for the uncut versions of three pre-election advertisements that were knocked back at the last moment by TVNZ, it would seem that a future beyond TV— or, at least beyond broadcast TV — beckons for political advocacy. National has also sought to use the Internet to address a key sector — young voters — with its "No Crap" Web site. The site, which bills itself as the "no crap guide to Kiwi politics … designed to inform, entertain and provoke" bears no stated connection to the National Party. But a quick lookup at Domainz will tell you that the nocrap.org.nz domain is registered to National, with David Farrar, a member of its campaign team, listed as the billing contact. It may be that, as the saying goes, on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog — but some people can read what’s written on your collar. The controversy over No Crap might prove a mixed blessing for National. On the one hand, as Farrar has noted, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and every media mention has driven visitors to the site. On the other, National risks being seen as devious— and its portrayal of the project as simply an initiative of a keen young bunch of National voters is not entirely credible. Ironically, No Crap’s spiritual heir is arguably the savagely funny site that went up a couple of months ago at www.youngnationals.org, which clearly stated that it was nothing to do with the National Party but claims to have been shut down by National nonetheless. The lineage may now have a third a generation, with the appearance of a left-leaning site at nocrap.findhere.com billing itself as the site "which really has ‘no crap’ on it". That last site is a private effort, as is National Cabinet Minister Simon Upton’s Upton On-line, a mailing list available from the minister’s Web site at www.arcadia.co.nz. Upton’s almost daily missives have sometimes outstripped his capacity to have anything new to say, but the initiative is commendable (as was the prompt response from Upton’s office to a polite note from this writer regarding unsolicited email). Yet the greater part of the Internet dimension of this election campaign is going on below the surface. Anecdotal evidence suggests that more use than ever is being made of mailing lists to inform, organise and gee-up supporters. That makes sense. The Web is all very well, but email, as ever, is the Internet’s killer app. Russell Brown edits the @IDG online news service. Contact Russell at russell_brown@idg.co.nz

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