France | Macron’s new media strategy | The Listening Post (Feature)

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During last year’s presidential election campaign, Emmanuel Macron was the darling of the French media. His promises of a “new world” and a new French revolution seemed tailor-made for the times.

So did Macron’s image as the politician offering a cure for France’s stagnant economy. He swept to power with 66 percent of the vote, demolishing his opponent of the far right. However, his romance with the media has since turned sour.

“We very rarely see Macron,” says RTL political editor Elizabeth Martichoux. “The Elysee Palace is quite an impregnable fortress. Macron does not host luncheons with journalists like his predecessor, Francois Hollande, used to. He stopped doing all that. There is never an ‘off-the-record’ moment, he is a president who is always ‘on the record.'”

From his earliest days in office, Macron made it clear which journalists he wanted covering his story. At the outset, Macron sometimes seemed like he was part president, part assignment editor.

“Only a few days into his mandate, the president decided to travel to Mali. He then contacted certain media outlets to let them know he only wanted journalists who specialised in defence and foreign policy, not political journalists,” explains Jean-Jerome Bertolus, a political writer at L’Opinion.

“This caused quite a stir among media outlets, who rightly said the president should not be allowed to choose which journalists to have by his side. It was a first show of strength.”

It’s a classic, political tactic: Court the news media on your way to power. Make time for them and smile for the cameras. Then, once you’re sworn into office, develop a sudden aversion to journalists.

But according to Sorbonne University professor Francois Jost, Macron does indeed talk to journalists, “but they are mainly foreign, and that annoys French journalists a lot … It’s not that he doesn’t speak. It’s just that he talks to others. The [French] media have no choice but to use bits of these encounters. However, none of these speeches is directly addressed to the French press.”

Within three months of taking office, Macron saw a sharp slide in his poll numbers. His proposed labour reforms and tax cuts were making the wrong kinds of headlines. So Macron hired Bruno Roger-Petit, a business journalist, as his new communications director.

Roger-Petit made room in Macron’s schedule for magazines like the glossy Paris Match and the conservative Le Point. On the TV side, he paired Macron with Cyril Hanouna, a celebrity host who is more of an actor or comedian than a journalist.

“Of course, when Macron calls Cyril Hanouna live on TV, the political journalists are choking because they keep trying to reach the president and are, in fact, still waiting for a call back,” says Bertolus.

When Macron granted his first French TV interview after almost five months, he chose the largest privately-owned channel, TF1, instead of France’s state broadcaster.

When he finally spoke to state TV, Macron and journalist Laurent Delahousse strolled around the Elysee Palace. It struck French journalists and audiences as a very American style of light-touch interviewing.

“I think Macron tricked Laurent Delahousse. How do you conduct a meaningful interview when you are strolling through the Elysee’s corridors in dim light? You can’t ask sharp questions in that kind of setting,” says Martichoux.

Today, Macron no longer gives French journalists the silent treatment, but the relationship is far from cordial. He has criticised previous presidents for being too close to journalists, accused the French media of narcissism, and reportedly called the state broadcaster “la honte de la Republique” – the shame of the republic.

He’s made it clear that state-owned media are due for an overhaul, signalling budget cuts and restructuring. Analysts say that the reform proposals could result in less public-service journalism and, ultimately, fewer people holding power to account.

“The whole history of French presidents and broadcasters – whether with Mitterrand, Chirac, Sarkozy, a bit less with Hollande – has been about keeping public TV and radio under their control,” according to Daniel Schneidermann, a media analyst at Arret Sur Images.

“I think Macron is really ‘old world’ in that he thinks he should have complete control over public broadcasting.”

When it comes to the media, Macron’s intentions are not all that different from his predecessors’, even if the tactics and the rhetoric are. If the French president gets away with it, his so-called “revolution” will be televised – his

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