Monday, October 11, 2010

French Political Media & Scandal

by Paulina Afshani

The Political Context of Media Systems (Hallin and Mancini, 125-145)

The relation between state and society in Europe is highly characterized by the welfare-state democracy because of the high degree of active state intervention. The media it is often used by the state to achieve political pluralism and/or to maintain national language and culture. This contrasts with the US model of a liberal democracy, in which there is a restricted role of state. Advertising is not very central to European business because of the tendency towards national, as opposed to continental cultural homogeneity. This means “weaker motivations to standardize collective customs through communication… which results in much lower advertising revenues” (Hallin and Mancini, p. 48). The high degree of interrelation between state and media is especially prevalent where capital is concentrated in Europe.

Within Europe, there is a large contrast between majoritarian governments (in Britain, Spain, Portugal, Greece) and consensus governments (in Italy and Central Europe). The majoritarian model is a two-party, winner-take-all system, which means the parties compete for the right to represent the nation as a whole. The press usually has internal pluralism. In contrast, a consensus government is one of power sharing and multiparty proportional representation. External pluralism and political parallelism is common in this model.

In the organized pluralism model, social groups are central to the political process because they often govern political, social, cultural, and/or educational institutions. Corporatism is organized pluralism with the formal integration of these social groups. External pluralism and political parallelism is common here.
In the model of rational-legal authority, institutions are autonomous of political parties, based on merit, and act according to established procedures. Professionalism of journalism predominates here and instrumentalization of the media is unlikely. This sharply contrasts with Clientelism, in which resources are controlled by patrons and delivered in exchange for support and/or deference by “clients.” Formal rules are less important than personal connections here, so journalistic professionalism is unlikely, and instrumentalization is generally high.

There is also a distinction between moderate pluralism, where parties tend towards the center, and polarized pluralism, where political spectrum is wide and parties tend to have distinct, sharply opposing ideologies, so political parallelism is much more prevalent.

Historical roots can tell a great deal about European political tendencies. For example, the tendency for Northern Europe was for liberal forces to replace the old order early on. Where this pattern prevailed, moderate pluralism, rational-legal authority, mass circulation media and journalistic professionalism are common. In contrast, in Southern Europe, industrialism developed much later so sharp political conflict persisted much longer. This has resulted in strong political pluralism and Clientelism.

Example of political competition in majoritarian system:

Example of victory through consensus of different groups in a multi-party system:

Example of effect of political Clientelism: Greek voters lose faith in the system

Public and Private in Contemporary French Politics by Raymond Kuhn

Put bluntly, “everything private is potentially public (CR, 186).” This is because there is no definitive line between what political information is deemed public and what is deemed private in France. In the sphere of politics, we have 3 key players: politicians, journalists, and the public. The lives of politicians are now becoming more fundamental to elections than ever. Today, we have three types of political news stories: public revelations, where the info is voluntarily disclosed through an overt public process; private revelations, where the info is also voluntary disclosed, but through a covert non-public process; and we have public secrets, where the info is released against the politician’s will. Not surprisingly, the main areas of contention are money, health, sex, and family values.

We can analyze the relationships between the key players (politicians, journalists, and the public) to better understand the big picture. In regards to the public, Politicians generally emphasize good personality traits along with their political stances. A politician’s image, which is subject to constant feedback from the polls, is often more important than his/her political beliefs. There is a growing desacralisation of politicians, which means their private lives are becoming more and more public. This makes it harder to project the image of a heroic leader. In turn, today, politicians are trying harder to look as if they relate to the public to avoid looking too elitist. Among citizens, there is growing partisan de-alignment and judgmental voting, partially due to decreased electoral significance of social cleavages, such as religion and income. Voters have also become more difficult to mobilize, especially young voters, due to mistrust in the system.
Explosions in radio, TV, and electronic media have created very competitive media markets. In turn, circulation of Le Monde and Liberation has declined partly due to popularization of other news sources. This includes free newspapers, celebrity magazines (i.e. Voici and Gala), and newsweeklies (i.e. Paris Match), which have all become political publicity outlets. TF1 and France 2 are the main broadcast sources for most of the electorate, though broadcast media’s main goal has moved towards advertising. The blog phenomenon has spread to politicians as well. This way, politicians can bypass intermediaries and disclose exactly what they want.

Deference and collusion has traditionally characterized the relationship between politicians and journalists, though investigative journalism also exists. For example, Le Canard enchaîné is legendary for its exposure of political scandals.

Ex: “The Gaymard Affair” members of government including Minister of Finance, Herve Gaymard, found guilty of renting out flats owned by the state for personal profit. Gaymard eventually resigned. They are exposed by Le Canard enchaîné.

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