Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Media, the Message, and the Management of Both

Libération today devotes considerable space (here, here, here, and here) to the question of interference in the media by Sarkozy. There is nothing new in the inuendo, in which I confess I have indulged at times myself (see the index under the head "media" for some examples). On the whole, I agree that it's better to be hypersensitive on this score than complacent. Yet there is a certain tiresome sameness to the charges. The president has cultivated friendships among media moguls and journalists. Certain articles have been spiked. Certain pressures have been brought to bear.

The problem with this kind of criticism is that it takes the place of serious analysis of the symbiotic relationship between media and politicians. Furthermore, its selectiveness is self-discrediting. Is Sarkozy too close to Elkabbach or Minc? Surely the Libé editorialists cannot be unaware that Mitterrand often used journalists who were covering him to write campaign speeches. That a well-known TV reporter was an intimate of Royal and Hollande. Or that the vie sentimentale that the former asked the latter to conduct henceforth outside the couple's domicile involved a journalist covering Socialist Party affairs for a major magazine. Did Rachida Dati threaten to sue if magazines published her baby pictures? Yes, but did not Hollande and Royal file suit for invasion of privacy against journalists who reported what one of them later acknowledged to be true and that is arguably not without a public dimension?

All of this would be too trivial and gossipaceous to recount were it not the staple of media self-reflection in France. Tony Blair, who is not without his faults, Lord knows, has nevertheless contributed a far more worthy piece to the debate. Blair is perfectly candid about the symbiosis of which I speak:

I first acknowledge my own complicity. We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our defence, after 18 years of opposition and the at times ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative. But such an attitude ran the risk of fuelling the trends that I am about to question.

"Courting, assuaging, and persuading": Blair pleads no contest to all the charges leveled against Sarkozy. He shrugs his shoulders, as if to say, "What else did you think politics was about?" But he then goes on to consider transformations in the media wrought by technology during his time in office. He notes the ways in which these changes complicated the business of governing, diminished time for internal reflection and thought, and, by threatening the financial viability of the media, heightened competition in ways that affected the content and tone of reporting. These are important points, and it would be good if the French media turned their attention away from the trivialities of the politico-media universe and addressed the more serious long-term issues.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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