Monday, October 11, 2010

French Political Media & Scandal

-Rachel, Andrew, Cody & Rachelle

“The Public and the Private in Contemporary French Politics”
In this article, Raymond Kuhn discusses the relationship between media and politics, outlining the role of politicians, journalists, and the public. He explains these connections and their development in recent years with historical and contemporary examples. Kuhn discusses the blurring of the lines of public and private, discussing the phenomenon of the “mediatisation of French politicians” (186). Politicians are increasingly concerned with their political image in terms of media, and use this as part of their “electoral self-promotion” (186). In other words, politicians are increasingly selling their image to the public, which has taken precedence over their political stances. Under types of information, there are “public revelations,” which are voluntarily released to the media through public processes, like press conference and presidential address. There are also “private revelations,” or information voluntarily released to the media by a politician through “covert, non-public” process, like off the record briefings. Last, there are “public secrets,” which are involuntarily released to the public through journalistic investigations, leaks, or chance (188). According to Kuhn, the popular areas of topic include finances, health, sex, and family values. All of these topics coincide with ideological values that French people find exemplary such as responsible spending of money, good health, physical capability, marital faith (although the public enjoys the drama of the contrary), and well-rounded family values.
Kuhn also discusses bilateral relationships between politicians and voters, media and audiences, and politicians and journalists. In terms of politicians and voters, politicians display routines of intimacy (such as within the family sphere) and ordinariness (such as exercising or eating out) to the public of a recognizable political persona. Media and audience preferences have also changed. We see more politicians appearing in television chat shows discussing politics more lightly and their personal lives more in depth, rather than political programming. Politicians and journalists often work very closely, either as close friends and confidants, or in terms of scandal and investigative journalism or “attack journalism” (198). Kuhn discusses that, although not all politics have become linked with the private sphere, personalization of politics has grown in popularity -- blurring the boundary between private and public. Politicians have much less control now over what information is private compared to just a few years ago when strict privacy legislations were in place. It will become even more difficult for politicians, the media, and the public to avoid linking the public with the private for good.

"Politics in the Television Age"
This article, written by Stylianos Papathanassoppoulos, discusses how the medium of television has changed and influenced the politics of the modern age. Throughout the article, Papathanassopoulos gives some credit to the arguments and statistics that are often used, but he retraces these ideas and does not give them his full support.
The main question in the first section, entitled Television and Politics, asks if television is a cause or an effect of social change. One argument describes the professionalization that campaigns have undergone in order to better accommodate the format and values of television. Originally, television held the promise of encouraging and increasing political participation from the citizens. Now, it appears to have the opposite effect: people become poorly informed and confused, which reinforces the idea that politics corrupt.
The second section is Television and Election Campaigning. The most common form of media used in political campaigns and elections in Europe is television. It has changed way political campaigns traditionally work. An example of this is less face-to-face communication between candidates and voters. Another is that modern campaigns rely much more on party experts than on volunteers. As a result, the traditional party campaign has been transformed into popular media campaigns. There is a greater emphasis on images and presentation, rather than concrete issues. Papathanassoppoulos’s third section is entitled Television and Politicians. While voters believe they are becoming closer with their politicians, they are instead becoming acquainted with attractive but superficial images. This leads politicians to be less accountable for their stances on issues, and care more about their presentation and how they are viewed through the lens of television. In addition, television viewership has changed political discussions from debates to programming that resembles an over-prepared talk show; it does not allow important issues to be discussed in depth.
The fourth and final section is entitled Television and Politics in the Era of Modernization and Digitalization. Modernization is defined as “a total process which implies not only a gradual move from tradition to modernity, but also a process towards a functionally integrated national or even super-national political system.” In Europe, election campaigns are modernizing, as well as traditional practices within the political system. A large percentage of money allotted for campaigns is now spent on commercials, professionalization of communication, and the projection of a particular image.
The debate about television's impact on politics in modern times will not be answered anytime soon because there are convincing arguments on both sides. Papathanassoppoulos sums up the argument well when he says, “[T]he truth is that nobody can argue convincingly that television is the main cause that mobilizes or demobilizes the public to participate in politics and the electoral practices.”

Youtube: Sarcastic video about French Campaigns
Modernization of European Union Election Campaigns

"Scandal and the Rise of Investigative Reporting in France"
The rise of investigative journalism is a relatively recent development in France. In this article, Jean K. Chalaby traces this tradition from the end of the Second World War to present day (2004) to explain the successes and shortcomings of the genre in France.
He refers two weekly periodicals that served as the primary sources of investigative journalism - Le Canard Echaîné and L'Express - from the 1950s, onward. They first featured in-depth investigations of political scandals and corruption. Major press outlets legitimized the genre in the late 1970s by adding their own investigative reporting departments. The number of reported scandals multiplied in the following decades, and the field became synonymous with good, serious journalism. Other factors contributed to its development: rising campaign costs led more politicians to accept bribes, politicians started using the media to expose scandalous members of the opposing party, and an increase in women and people from low socioeconomic backgrounds in journalism are less prone to venality.
Investigative journalism in France is not fully developed. Recent reasons for this are: it is expensive to pay for extensive research, it is easier to publish stories already uncovered by the source, the lure of profit leads some to invent or heavily embellish stories, and the government is restricting the disclosure of damaging information, especially during judicial inquiry.
Historical reasons: First, the press was organized around literary or political goals during most of the 20th century. Journalism was compared with "high" literature rather than being a separate genre. French literary writers dominated journalistic writing and generated more commentary than news. Political journalism usually had a strong partisan slant, or represented a political party (L'Humanite, La Croix). Journalists were too close to the political party to dissent or even recognize a breach of ethics. Eventually, they limited their commentary to "the most public and official aspects of political life." Second, heavy state control created little competition between media outlets. Unsurprisingly, media outlets developed investigative journalism units rapidly when competition was introduced to the market. Third, the state heavily controlled media after Second World War. Many journalists were bought into silence by the government; therefore, the press reported few political scandals and fewer made an impact. Last, investigative journalism rests on the assumptions that the system is good, individuals corrupt the system, and exposing corruption improves the system. However, some may not buy into this idea. Other cultures would argue that the system corrupts, and the individual is basically good. In this view, excoriating public figures in the press may not be useful for the public good.

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