Comparing French and Foreign Coverage of the Presidential Race
Marine Makes Headlines Worldwide
“This is what everyone is going to be talking about abroad tomorrow,” observed Nahida Nakad, Editorial Director at France24, a French network with channels in French, English and Arabic, minutes after learning the results.
“What strikes me is that, after the experience of [Marine’s father] Jean-Marie Le Pen making it into the second round in 2002, French people were willing to vote for a xenophobic party when they had the choice… It’s a terrible message for our Arabic-speaking and English-speaking audiences,” she said.
French media outlets’ fingers were tied. The law forbade them from publishing, tweeting or linking to election results before 20h Paris time, when the last polling station had closed.
In the digital newsroom at France24, the tension was palpable. “As journalists we’re in this awkward position of not being able to tell the story,” said Eric Olander, the head of digital media at France24.
Using the top-trending hashtag #RadioLondres, some wily French tweeters circumvented the law by attaching code names such as green Hungarian wine (Sarkozy) and red Dutch cheese (Hollande) to the candidates.
Meanwhile, Belgian and Swiss websites were publishing early tallies, and English-language sources like Canada’s The Globe and Mail had no qualms about picking them up, giving foreign sources an edge over French sites in the coverage of their own presidential race.
The results of today’s elections seemed to reaffirm predictions made by the foreign press leading up to today. Even before this first round, many members of the international press were ready to bid adieu to Sarkozy, often talking about his “imminent defeat,” as The Telegraph did.
Earlier this week, Telegraph reporter Anne-Elisabeth Moutet began her article by writing: “I shall be sorry to see Sarkozy go. His defeat, if it truly comes to that in two weeks’ time… will have been a fiasco of style over substance.”
She was not the only one. Headlines across the world spoke with near-certainty about the likelihood of a negative outcome for the French president in the elections. The Los Angeles Times evoked a powerful image when it referred to Sarkozy’s last rally at Place de la Concorde, the largest square of the French capital: “Unfortunately, last weekend’s event evoked an entirely different symbolism: Place de la Concorde is, after all, where King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, lost their heads to the guillotine.”
French News Sites’ Use of Infographics
Web elements and infographics played a major role in the French presidential elections today.
On French news site Rue89, a colorful infographic shows the first round’s final results. There again, the choice of photos that were used to identify each of the candidates seem to symbolize the reality. On one hand, the black-and-white photograph used to identify Socialist candidate’s François Hollande shows him smiling, while that of the French president and candidate shows him looking at a distance, with a strong expression of concern. The images evoke both Hollande’s satisfaction and Sarkozy’s frustration as the Socialist candidate beat the incumbent president in number of votes.
Most impressive, however, were the infographics by French newspapers Le Monde and Le Figaro, which combine pictures, maps and graphics. Le Figaro, for example, has an interactive “heat map” that allows users to see which candidate was the winner for each French province, as well as a comparison to the elections that took place in 2007.
While the French media rarely considered the effects of the French election on the international stage, much of the foreign media’s coverage of the election dealt with this question. Main topics of interest included the implications of a new French presidency on European economic policy and the rise of Marine Le Pen in the context of the broader rise of the far right in Europe. UK weekly The Economist criticized this inward looking attitude in an article titled “a country in denial”. The article discusses how the reluctance of the French to accept globalisation exacerbates rather than solves its problems.
The foreign media took a sharp interest in the fate of the Merkel-Sarkozy alliance arising from the French elections. Set against the backdrop of the financial crisis and the duo’s efforts in guiding European austerity policy, much of this focus related to the core economic issues facing Europe. But other than that, foreign media seemed to find the close relationship between the two leaders quite amusing and did not restrain itself from displaying the two in somewhat affectionate and cosy positions.
Emma Knight, Natalia Martinez, Ramin Namvari