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'Video on demand' venture aims to change the face of political discourse

By Ian Christopher McCaleb

November 8, 1999
Web posted at: 6:28 p.m. EST (2328 GMT)

WASHINGTON, (CNN) -- An ambitious Internet venture unveiled Monday in Washington seeks to provide the voting public with unfettered, "unfiltered" issue-specific messages from each of 2000 presidential candidates, as well as from those running for the House, Senate, and state governor's mansions next November.

FreedomChannel.com, (http://www.freedomchannel.com), a comprehensive World Wide Web site launched by the Arlington, Virginia-based Freedom Forum, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Century Foundation, features an archive of 90-second video clips recorded by a number of presidential candidates speaking on a variety of hot-button campaign issues.

  MESSAGE BOARD
Framing The Issues
 

The site joins a growing field of Web-based news, information and advocacy offerings for the political junkie -- and the field of readily available political information and news sources on the Internet is certain to expand further in advance of 2000 vote.

Freedom Channel President and Chief Executive Officer Doug Bailey, speaking to reporters on Monday, hailed the newly operational site as the vanguard of a new form of political discourse heading into the next millennium. "Video-on-demand will change our culture, our entertainment, our information, our news and our politics. Freedomchannel.com is a one-stop shop for video-on-demand," he said.

The premise of the site is straightforward. Users may choose from a variety of 90-second clips of candidates tackling issues such as the state of American education, gun policy, health care and subjects of morality. National parties and issue advocacy groups also contribute to the mix with their own library of video clips.

Even at this early stage,the site features a complex array of some 200 video clips, in RealVideo format. The selection will grow exponentially in January, when Freedom Channel staffers will begin to add clips from congressional and gubernatorial races.

FreedomChannel.com will allow users to view "head-to-head" comparisons of the positions taken by groups, parties or candidates in three-minute "mini-debates," search through an archive of campaign advertisements, and view the results of a number of planned, bipartisan Hart-Teeter polls.

At the beginning of the year, the site hopes to launch a customizable email alert feature.

Such a wide variety of views, and the flexibility offered by video-on-demand, will allow voters to "click on any candidate they want to hear from, when they want to," according to Bailey.

"This is nonpartisan and nonprofit," he added.

The ability of political candidates to reach voters without having to lay out significant amounts to money to cover advertising and production fees has been hotly contested since campaign finance reform efforts were launched in Congress two years ago.

A Senate campaign finance bill offered in 1998 and again this year by current presidential candidate John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisconsin) featured provisions calling for free airtime for each candidate on each of the nation's major television networks. The McCain-Feingold bill was never passed by the Senate.

Bailey expressed hope that the video clips available on FreedomChannel.com would find their way to major broadcast outlets.

"They are broadcast quality, and they will be made available" to networks and other outlets, he said.

Representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties were on hand to christen the site.

"This is big and this is important," said Joe Andrew, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "This is not about raising money, it's about raising interest."

"This is the wave of the future," said Rep. Tom Davis ( R-Virginia) chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "This allows everybody the equal opportunity to get better, unfiltered information, something that is lacking in today's political climate."

Al From, chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, said Monday -- a year to the day of next year's election -- witnessed the birth of "a new dimension" in Internet politics, not only with the launch of FreedomChannel.com, but also with the DLC's much-anticipated online town hall meeting with President Bill Clinton Monday evening.

The meeting is set run 90 minutes, and will provide participants with an opportunity to pose questions to Clinton, New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and a handful of other Democrats.

The event, which will originate at Washington's George Washington University Marvin Center, will feature voice chat technology by Excite and Lipstream. Viewers will be able to pose questions online, and may watch streamed feeds via the Web or satellite. The meeting may be accessed at http://townhallmeeting.excite.com.

The one-year mark prior to the 2000 election has brought a number of new political sites to the Web, including a comprehensive source launched by the Washington Post in partnership with Congressional Quarterly.

In early October, an investor group in Tempe, Arizona, launched Politics.com, (http://www.politics.com). a site whose self-declared mission is to make the political system "more personal, more accessible, and more responsive to the needs of the individual."


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Monday, November 8, 1999






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