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Saturday, 7 December 2013

French politicians and their moments of mendacity - it's all the media's fault

Don't you just love (French) politicians. They're all so honest and sincere, fiercely upstanding in their efforts to represent and serve those who've elected them.

Furthermore, they refuse outright to deceive the public, especially when they're in front of a camera.

What you see or hear when they pop up on your TV screens (and boy, do they pop up) is the Coca Cola "Real Thing", the genuine article.

Cue corny commercial...

Er "Non, mais allô quoi" to quote one of the great French thinkers of our time.

If only.

But it's not their fault at all.

When politicians are caught out apparently trying to use the very same media of which they're often so critical to swing public opinion in their direction they're not to blame.

Rather, it's all the responsibility of the dreaded and dreadful media.

This past week there have been two examples in France which illustrate perfectly just how (some) politicians think the media really is out to "get" them.

First up there was Paul-Marie Coûteaux, founder and president of the Souveraineté, indépendance et libertés (SIEL) movement which has close ties to the far-right Front National (FN).

Paul-Marie Coûteaux (screenshot France 3 debate, May 2013

Indeed Coûteaux, a former member of the European parliament, campaigned for the FN's, Marine Le Pen, in the 2012 French presidential elections and he has joined forces with the her to help recruit new members especially those who might be disillusioned with the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

He was also the subject of a report on last weekend's edition of the weekly news magazine  "Le Supplément" on Canal +.

Accompanied by a reporter and a camera team, Coûteaux went off at one point for a working breakfast in Brest where he claimed afterwards he had secured the promise of membership from a prominent local political figure who had been active in the 90s and his wife - both of whom had previously backed the UMP.

Getting back into his car to return to Paris, Coûteaux seemed to forget that he was still hooked up to the microphone  and smugly told his fellow passengers that he had "fooled the journalist by pretending that he had managed to recruit two new high profile members".

There had, as the programme pointed out, been no meeting with former UMP members interested in joining the FN, and Coûteaux had made the whole thing up.

An unrepentant Coûteaux spoke out in defence of his of er...stretching of the truth saying that Canal + had been "out to trap him, that's what the channel was good at and it was all part of (the media) transforming politics into a circus."

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Of course.

The media was and is to blame for politicians not sticking with the truth and that's the line Le Pen took when she was asked for her reaction.

"I know Paul-Marie and he always tries to do his best," she said.

"He believes he can never do enough and he wanted to prove how much he could do because there were cameras around," she continued.

"And you know, the presence of a camera sometimes makes you say the craziest thing."

Politicians and sincerity 1 - the media 0

Ah yes those cameras. Not only do they apparently make politicians say something that isn't necessarily accurate, they can also make them do what they don't want to.

Just ask - and here for the sake of balance is the second example of how the media is responsible for the lies politicians don't tell -  Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Now Mélenchon probably needs as much of an introduction as (Marine) Le Pen.

During his years in politics the former Socialist party member has been a government minister, a senator, a member of the European parliament and a French presidential candidate.

Right now he's co-president of the Parti de Gauche, (Left party, PG) and all round pain in the backside of (among others) the French president François Hollande.

When there's a demonstration to be led against government policy especially in the fields of social and economic reform, you can bet your bottom centime that somewhere in the crowd (and usually at the head of it) you'll find Mélenchon.

He also has a love-to-hate relationship with the media.

Last weekend Mélenchon was living up to he reputation as a pain in the gluteus maximus with a rally in Paris against "the injustices of tax increases" (well nobody likes having to pay more taxes now, do they?) and, ahead of the official demo, was interviewed "live" by Claire Chazal on TF1's lunchtime news.

And there he stood in front of what appeared to be hundreds of flag-waving supporters, a "fact" that Chazal pointed out when introducing him.

"I just want to correct you Claire," he said. "This is a movement against the tax increases not just supported by my party but by a number of parties from the left of the political spectrum as well as the unions ," he added, seeming to forget momentarily the other mistake Chazal had made and the impression viewers might have had from the camera angle - namely that there was indeed a mass of people behind him.


Because you see, Stefan de Vries, a correspondent in France for the Dutch channel RTL and a contributor to both France 24 and La Croix, just happened to live across from where the interview was taking place and took a photo of the scene - something TF1 viewers didn't see.

He posted it on the Net and it quickly entered the Twittersphere accompanied by claims that TF1 and Mélenchon had been in cahoots to fool viewers.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon interview TF1 - street scene from Twitter

Mélenchon saw red (naturally), choosing his often preferred method of defence by going on the attack and writing on his blog that he had been asked to take part in what he considered to be a ridiculous interview before the rally began.

"It was just more interesting to have some supporters around rather than appearing in an empty street," he wrote, adding that a member of his party and not the so-called "journalist" had actually taken a photo and posted it on Twitter.

And he didn't stop there, laying into Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel (CSA) - rant rant rant, Europe 1 - rant rant rant, journalists in general - rant rant rant, the media - rant rant rant, the government - rant rant rant and rant rant rant...

Why choose a dozen or so words when several hundred will do?

In short, Mélenchon considered that he wasn't to blame for anything and it was all the fault of (paraphrasing) the media conspiring with the government to discredit him.

It must be exhausting being so angry with everyone all the time.

Politicians and sincerity 2 - the media 0

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