Monday, April 2, 2012

The Equal Time Rules

If you've been watching French TV over the past few weeks, you may have noticed a rather strange phenomenon: just as the campaign swings into high gear, the TV coverage has descended into a whirlwind of "campaign diaries" (e.g., a 15-second per candidate photo montage that takes you from Arthaud to Sarkozy en passant par Poutou and Cheminade), punctuated by interviews in which each of the candidates appears at the anchor's side for a few minutes of heart-to-heart. What you're not getting is any in-depth analysis or detailed coverage of the leading candidates. Blame the CSA. In case you're confused about the equal-time rules, here's a quick rundown. We are now in phase two of the gradually tightening noose, and the absurd results are there for all to see.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité: it's a fine trinity, but there are times when the insistence on strict "equality" has truly perverse effects, and this is one of them. Jacques Cheminade's candidacy is a joke, and yet there he is, holding forth to half a dozen people on a streetcorner in Trouville-sur-Néant, as though this "meeting" were as significant an event as Sarkozy's mammoth affair in Villepinte. Who's kidding whom? Last night on France2, one could enjoy Philippe Poutou telling a reporter that "campaigning is more tiring than working" in a Renault factory, which might not be exactly the message you would expect to hear from the candidate of the New Anticapitalist Party but which somehow seemed less important than having a reporter try to press Hollande on what exactly his strategy for "renegotiating" the recent Eurozone agreement on budget discipline would be. But you can't have that, because then you'd have to hear Dupont-Aignan, Joly, Arthaud, and Cheminade at similar length.

Surely the absurdity of this system is patent. So why is there not more clamor to do something about it?


Anonymous said...

Is it really more absurd than US candidates super-PACs spending millions on TV proganda-like ads coming from 0.1% super rich donators ?

Robert said...

The problem is that plenty of candidates -- not just Sarko and Hollande -- are getting only the most superficial coverage. Now we can debate whether that has to do with CSA rules, declining media standards, or a combination.

Take Eva Joly: She's essentially getting hammered for her unpleasant personality and weak attempts at humor (think of her beginning her speech with a Ch'ti accent). Then again, what about her ideas? Why does she mention Jaures, hardly an environmentalist icon, in her speeches? Why is she speaking of social justice and not focusing on the environment a mere 12 months after Fukishima? Perhaps she's trying to reinvent political ecology, but you wouldn't know it from the way media organs are portraying her.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps less time should be devoted to candidates who poll under 5% and some leeway should be provided for the top4 or 5 runners, but overall it seems like a good principle that just needs to be adapted to the realities of a 10-candidate campaign.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a good rule. The real problem is that there are too many candidates. If there were only the 5 "big" candidates, the equal time rule wouldn't be an issue. Maybe if more small parties could get a seat at the Assemble, their incentive to take part of the presidential election would diminish.

bernard said...

It's actually the least bad of possible rules.

1. Even leaving aside public TV (A2, FR3 etc.), other TV networks have a definite ideological slant. Not especially a French thing too: Gordon Brown remarked, having been hammered throughout his PM days, i'm quoting not so loosely "what did you expect, 90% of the press is conservative!"

2. Sure, some candidates are absurdly irrelevant. How do we know this ex ante: from polling institutes. You can't legislate polling institutes into the constitution. Some might argue, give an edge to candidates representing parties with a representation in Parliament. That would be legislating status quo. And it would give an advantage, say, to the green party - which actually only has parliament members because the socialist party lets them -. And the green party polls something like 2% under the wise campaign of its candidate. So why give them an edge. Because we think from general polling that many French are vaguely concerned about the environmment ?

3. It's not that the present system is good, it's that no one has come up yet with a proposal that would be better. And the written and IT press is not subject to these limitations anyway, and is the place to go to for deep analysis (at least in principle). Deep analysis and TV are an oxymoron: see the audience of channels like Public Senat or even Arte.