Monday, February 21, 2011

The Public and Private in Contemporary French Politics

by Betty Chen

Papathanassopoulos’ article, “Politics in the Television Age,” provides us with a look at the contemporary backdrop of European 'videocracy' (Mazzoleni 1995). Since the 1990s, television has grown to be an important medium for both entertainment and information, and has an almost unique ability to reach a specific mass audience. Political communication practices have adopted to include the heavy use of the 'mediatisation' of television. It is also a coincidence that the statuses of traditional political parties, trade unions and political affiliations have declined. This has led to “a decrease in the power and status of politicians... [Thus,] the growing indifference of the public towards politics should be attributed to the decline of politics… rather than being considered as the outcome of television’s dominance” (125). It can be the overall political, economic and social conditions of modern democracy that has led to the decreased political participation of voters. But, Papathanassopoulos admits that this “’modernized’ relationship between the media and politics does not seem to be making a positive contribution to the health of democracy” (126).

"The Public and Private in Contemporary French Politics," is an article written in 2007 by Raymond Kuhn, a professor of political communication and contemporary French politics at Queen Mary, University of London, as part of a cultural study on France.

Kuhn argues that “what once was- or at least appeared to be- a clear frontier between the public and private spheres has become blurred and open to dispute” (186).

To disentangle the concepts of private and public, Kuhn advises us to consider both
1. the status of information: information as public or private on a continuum scale, and not as a binary function (187) and
2. the process of its dissemination via the news media. Consider two dimensions:
a. Is the information of a voluntary or involuntary nature from the perspective of the politician? Was he willing to share this information to the public?
b. Is the information of an overt or covert nature? Differing interpretations of boundary maintenance and terms of engagement (188) can cause problems if the politician intended the information to be shared off the record.

This shift in boundaries between what is public and private in French political communication and journalism, is in part due to changes in the “interdependent relationships between three sets of actors: politicians, journalists and the public” (185).

Politicians and their support staff are increasingly relying on the mediatisation of their image to personalize their electoral process to reach out to the voter audience. At the same time, the electorates have less of a control over what is publicized and what is not, especially in these areas of contention in their “private” life: money, health, sex, and family values. Online blogs are an exception as they provide a direct line of communication to the public.
See for political blogs posted on the French newspaper website.

Journalists and other people of the media, on the other hand, have ‘their own aims and rules that… often clash with those of political communicators’ (Mazzoleni and Schultz (1999: 249). In France and other Mediterranean regions, there have been traditions of deference and collusion between the press and political leaders. However, the media have become more intrusive in revealing the private lives of politicians in order to win the ratings and audiences necessary to survive in the competitive media market.

Finally, the media audience itself has adopted standards of obtaining information comparable to other advanced democracies. With technological developments and the wealth of sources of news available, the French public expects to know more about their political leaders, including their private lives.

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