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Democratic participation and public access broadcasting: Caller Perspectives on Election Call
Unformatted Document Text:  5 (ed.), 1998). This is one reason why programmes such as Election Call, which enable (even superficial) dialogue between the public and the politicians, are important to monitor: can such shows contribute to the practice of a public sphere? Whilst the wider study on Election Call was interested in both production and participation issues, this paper only addresses caller experiences. Election Call began transmission in 1974 and, nearly 30 years later, its format remains remarkably unchanged. For the 2001 series, the phone lines opened at 8am and the show was broadcast at 9am for 45 minutes, with a further 15 minutes given over to emailed questions. Each day, approximately 250 people phoned the programme’s hotline, of whom 12 or so were invited to ask their questions on air: each day there was one politician in the ’hot seat’ (although on one day, a representative of each of the Scottish Nationalist Party and Plaid Cymru took part jointly), rotating amongst the main parties and culminating with the leader of the opposition on the penultimate day and the prime minister on the final day. As far as selecting our sample, is concerned, the research team contacted three women and three men each day, within hours of their having taken part in the programme. We chose callers on the basis of wanting to include different question topics, different approaches to the politician in question and different questioning styles. We also contacted one person each day who had not been invited to participate. A total of 68 ’successful callers’ took part in the study (32 women and 36 men) and 12 ’unsuccessful’ callers (6 women and 6 men): on four days, we were unable to make contact with all the women who had been selected to be contacted, including one day where one woman refused to take part. Overall, though, just under 50% of all callers who aired their question in the 2001 series of Election Call took part in the call-back study, and most of the discussion below is informed by their perspectives. Representing the body politic or the public? It could be argued (and has been) that individuals who are interested in participating in an election phone-in programme are not actually representative of the public at large because they demonstrate a desire for active political engagement which is atypical of most of the electorate,

Authors: Ross, Karen.
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(ed.), 1998). This is one reason why programmes such as Election Call, which enable (even
superficial) dialogue between the public and the politicians, are important to monitor: can such
shows contribute to the practice of a public sphere? Whilst the wider study on Election Call was
interested in both production and participation issues, this paper only addresses caller
experiences.
Election Call began transmission in 1974 and, nearly 30 years later, its format remains
remarkably unchanged. For the 2001 series, the phone lines opened at 8am and the show was
broadcast at 9am for 45 minutes, with a further 15 minutes given over to emailed questions.
Each day, approximately 250 people phoned the programme’s hotline, of whom 12 or so were
invited to ask their questions on air: each day there was one politician in the ’hot seat’ (although
on one day, a representative of each of the Scottish Nationalist Party and Plaid Cymru took part
jointly), rotating amongst the main parties and culminating with the leader of the opposition on
the penultimate day and the prime minister on the final day. As far as selecting our sample, is
concerned, the research team contacted three women and three men each day, within hours of
their having taken part in the programme. We chose callers on the basis of wanting to include
different question topics, different approaches to the politician in question and different
questioning styles. We also contacted one person each day who had not been invited to
participate. A total of 68 ’successful callers’ took part in the study (32 women and 36 men) and
12 ’unsuccessful’ callers (6 women and 6 men): on four days, we were unable to make contact
with all the women who had been selected to be contacted, including one day where one woman
refused to take part. Overall, though, just under 50% of all callers who aired their question in the
2001 series of Election Call took part in the call-back study, and most of the discussion below is
informed by their perspectives.
Representing the body politic or the public?
It could be argued (and has been) that individuals who are interested in participating in an election
phone-in programme are not actually representative of the public at large because they
demonstrate a desire for active political engagement which is atypical of most of the electorate,


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