Media demonisation, ‘la fabrique de la haine’ and Le Figaro

 

 

Dr Pam Moores

School of Languages and European Studies

Aston University

 

 

Context

Following the French presidential election of 2002, attacks on the French media were intense. The shock results of the first presidential ballot on 21 April 2002, which saw the Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen gain sufficient support to win a place in the second ballot, led to widespread condemnation of media commentators who had largely failed to warn of such a potential outcome. Furthermore, journalists and politicians alike were accused of contributing to Le Pen’s success by aggravating and exaggerating a public sense of insecurity and fostering the desire for tough action, which was one of the explanations frequently advanced for voters having supported the far Right. It was the desire to investigate such claims that prompted me to study the growing climate of fear in France during the year prior to the presidential election, and to analyse the interaction of politicians and the media in creating this mood of heightened anxiety. The focus of my research has not been immigration per se. However, much of the public debate on ‘insécurité’ over this period implicitly associates the alleged crime-wave in France with a perceived rise in delinquency amongst second generation immigrant youth. It is widely accepted that the stigmatisation of young immigrants played a part in Le Pen’s success. An introduction to media coverage of ‘insécurité’ prior to the election will therefore provide the wider context for discussion of issues relating to the representation of immigrants more specifically. Similarly, from broad treatment of the media generally, we shall gradually narrow the focus to concentrate on the particular role played by right-wing broadsheet Le Figaro.

 

‘Insécurité’ amplified

In the aftermath of the first presidential ballot, recriminations focused above all on television coverage of ‘insécurité’. Leading channel TF1 in particular was bitterly denounced by Lionel Jospin’s spokesman on law and order, Julien Dray, who regarded it as the prime source of excessive and distorting coverage of crime and violence in the period leading up to the election. In an interview on Radio Shalom on 9 May 2002, Dray dubbed the channel TF Haine (the hate TV channel) or TFN (as if the channel were linked to the Front National).[1] Studies have certainly demonstrated disproportionate coverage of ‘insécurité’ on the part of French news media generally. Extensive research was conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) Media Intelligence into the role of crime and violence in the news from early January 2002 to 5 May (the date of the second ballot).[2] Analysing the output of 23 national television channels (terrestrial, cable and satellite), 18 regional channels, 24 radio stations and a range of print media, researchers weighted news stories according to the time and place they occupied and the audience reached, in order to assess their media impact.  The research findings showed that, although the replacement of the French franc by the Euro at the beginning of the year was a major national event, it was quickly displaced and eclipsed by ‘insécurité’ in news coverage. From January to May, there were 18,766 television news stories connected to ‘insécurité’, that is 987 per week on average.  In the media generally, the theme attracted twice as much attention as employment, and eight times as much as unemployment, despite the fact that Lionel Jospin at the time was seeking to highlight his success in reducing the latter. Crime was clearly a serious social problem. Ministry of Interior figures had recorded a 5.72% rise in crime in 2000, followed by a 7.69% rise in 2001. However, in the period from January to April 2002, the increase had slowed to 4.8%.[3] Thus, the heightened level of media interest cannot be explained simply in terms of changes in the crime rate. It was rather a question of politicians and journalists, particularly those on the Right, deliberately focusing attention on ‘insécurité’, and whipping up public demand for them to do so.

 

There is evidence to suggest that television played the most important role. According to TNS Media Intelligence, television accounted for 60% of the volume of coverage on ‘insécurité’, the print media for 25%, and radio for 12%.[4] Whereas employment continued to be treated regularly by newspapers, it virtually disappeared from television screens.[5] According to research conducted by Denis Muzet of the ‘Observatoire du débat public’, television was also responsible for dramatizing crime and inducing fear in viewers, TF1 most particularly so.[6] Although TF1 news was more popular than news on public television channels France 2 and France 3, attracting over ten million viewers as opposed to six million for each of the latter, Muzet reported that, paradoxically, TF1 viewers’ experience of the news was the most negative. Le Monde summarized his research findings as follows: ‘Les Français vivent leur journal comme une souffrance’.[7] TF1 news was found to sequence and link news items in a dramatic narrative. Researchers described a polished dialectical process of manipulation: the reassuring commentary from newsreader Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, and the horror of the images he introduced but simultaneously sought to counteract, both intensified progressively in parallel. The effect was compelling, but viewers were left feeling ill at ease. As semiologist Mariette Darrigrand explained, through deliberate and repeated use of the term ‘violence’, TF1 established a unifying, generalising and intensifying link between unconnected news items, which produced a cumulative effect, namely the impression that violence was a widespread and growing problem.

 

Television, however, was not solely responsible for the trend. Newspapers were also affected, even left-wing broadsheets. In an analysis of treatment of ‘insécurité’ by Le Monde and Libération from January to July 2002, Romuald Bodin and David Sorin found dramatic peaks in coverage in March and early April 2002 immediately prior to the first presidential ballot.[8] They describe these peaks of intensive coverage as a torch effect (‘effet de torche’) attributable to mercenary escalation or amplification of the issue (‘surenchère mercantile’) on the part of media organisations, which they accused of being unduly influenced by commercial competition and rivals’ behaviour as opposed to actual events.

 

Alarmist coverage in Le Figaro

What is interesting is that Le Figaro seems to have attracted little critical attention for its coverage of ‘l’insécurité’ in the period leading up to the presidential election. Maybe this is because it is so widely acknowledged and undisputed that the newspaper has a right-wing agenda that reactionary coverage from this quarter is deemed scarcely worthy of comment. Le Figaro has regularly taken a hard-line stance on the role of immigrant youth in urban violence from the early 1980s onwards.[9] Since the summer of 2001 onwards, however, the newspaper has played a highly significant role in putting ‘insécurité’ at the top of the agenda, in conditioning public opinion and inflaming passions. Acrimed (Action Critique Médias), a network of intellectuals and media specialists actively engaged in media criticism, highlighted Le Figaro’s alarmist coverage of terrorism following 11 September 2001 in an article published on its website in January 2002.[10] The analysis presented in this article covers a different but related aspect of the debate on ‘insécurité’, namely immigrant involvement in crime. In both cases, characteristic exaggeration and provocation are apparent, undermining public confidence.

 

In his book ‘Violences et insécurité. Fantasmes et réalités dans le débat français’, published in the second quarter of 2001,[11] CNRS sociologist Laurent Mucchielli traces the rise in media coverage of the theme of ‘insécurité’ back to the riots in Vaulx-en-Velin in 1990. He argues that at the time there was a clear political division in press treatment, with right-wing titles such as Le Figaro and France-Soir indulging in alarmist and reactionary coverage, while Le Monde and Libération, for example, concentrated rather on sociological explanations of crime and violence. Since 1995 however, Mucchielli argues, media treatment had become increasingly depoliticized and trivialised, as if violent behaviour were widely regarded as banal. The political Right and Left alike appeared to have accepted that many of the problems were due to unresolved issues of cultural difference and social alienation. It is important, however, to note that this analysis from Mucchielli predates the resumption of increased politicization of the issue in the build-up to the 2002 election campaign. He has since confirmed that he regards the subsequent influence of Le Figaro as meriting the special attention it will be afforded here.

 

Writing on the ubiquitous media presence of ‘insécurité’ in early 2001,[12] social scientist Pierre Rimbert  pointed out that a handful of prominent media commentators have been responsible for much of the media hype on the topic. If an isolated incident captures the imagination of a commentator with a vested interest, coverage rapidly escalates or ‘snowballs’, giving a misleading impression. Rimbert recounts how a so-called crime expert confided to him that after the riots following the shooting of Riad Hamloui by a police officer in Lille in 2000, he found himself giving two television interviews and seven radio interviews in rapid succession, in addition to appearing on the BBC. He was so much in demand that he had to decline the majority of invitations he received from media organisations. Two particular so-called experts on security, journalist Xavier Raufer (whose real name is Christian de Bongain) and his collaborator, Alain Bauer, Grand Master of the Lodge of the Orient at the time, have been regular contributors to Le Figaro on the topic of crime. Since publication in 1998 of their controversial bestseller ‘Violences et insécurités urbaines’,[13] these two freemasons have enjoyed considerable notoriety, repeatedly attracting criticism from sociologists such as Mucchielli.[14] He describes them as alarmist peddlers of simplistic theses with a career interest in exaggerating the scale of the problems. He systematically takes apart their pseudo-scientific methodology, and their indiscriminate amalgamation of figures calculated on different bases; he also questions their academic credentials. Nonetheless, through regular contributions to a respected establishment broadsheet such as Le Figaro, which has given them a platform, the two writers have had a significant impact on public opinion.

 

An episode in the summer of 2001 illustrates this phenomenon. The 5.7% rise in the crime rate for 2000 had been the biggest increase for a decade and, in 2001 police unions leaked worrying reports of steeper increases rising to 12% which surfaced in Le Figaro in June,[15] though subsequently the predictions proved premature and misleading.[16] Right-wing criticism of governmental inadequacy on law and order was intensifying, and on 18 June 2001 Le Figaro devoted front-page coverage to controversial new research conducted by Alain Bauer, working with Stéphane Quéré. They claimed that crime rates in France had overtaken those in the USA, and whereas the American situation had improved as a result of zero tolerance, the French situation was worsening. These ‘explosive’ findings were revealed under the alarmist headline,  ‘La France plus criminogène que les Etats-Unis’ in an article exploiting startling figures but completely lacking in critical exploration of definitions, presuppositions or contextualisation.[17] The Director General of the National Police promptly rebutted these findings in Le Monde in a lengthy and carefully argued text.[18] Crime is a broad term, and figures must be interpreted with caution and in context. Further criticism of the research followed in Le Monde and Libération,[19] questioning the basis of comparison and the selective use of statistics. However, as Mucchielli reported,[20] once published by Le Figaro, the spurious findings were quickly taken up by news agency Agence France Presse, were reproduced repeatedly by radio station France-Info, and eventually found their way onto the news on TF1, where it was stated as objective fact that France was now more dangerous than the USA! It is understandable that critical attention focused very much on TF1 insofar as, in this case for example, it was the TF1 news report which reached the widest national audience. However, it should not be overlooked that it was in fact Le Figaro that was responsible for giving credence to rather questionable research and launching the news story.

 

President Chirac himself, whose personal reputation was under threat at the time,[21] capitalized on this news story for electoral purposes. In what represented an unprecedented attack on the government’s record on a day of national celebration, in his presidential broadcast to the nation on 14 July Chirac baldly repeated the claim that there was more violent crime in France than in the USA.[22] Encouraged by this endorsement, Le Figaro further reinforced the message with a depressing summary of offences committed around the country on 14 July under the sarcastic heading: ‘L’insécurité; les chiffres d’un 14-Juillet ordinaire’.[23]

 

‘La fabrique de la haine’ – the hate factory

The concern in the summer of 2001 was the alleged rise in crime, but following the terrorist attacks of 11 September, attention inevitably focused more specifically on immigrant and particularly Muslim communities. The mood of fear and suspicion, and repressive measures introduced in response to the terrorist threat were seen around the world. In France these anxieties resonated with heightened domestic concern about law and order, which was exploited by politicians of the Right in order to undermine Jospin’s government and his prospects for the presidency. Left-wingers too, keen to demonstrate they were not soft on crime, embraced the call for tough action. Curfews for young people had already been introduced, emergency powers were strengthened through the Plan Vigipirate, and new legislation restricted people from gathering or loitering in halls and stairways. In short, the police were equipped with substantially increased powers, which caused resentment in some quarters.

 

‘La fabrique de la haine’, the factory of hate at the centre of the title of this article, is a direct reference to police power and alleged impunity. It is the title of a petition launched on 6 October 2001, following the surprise acquittal on 28 September of a policeman, Pascal Hiblot, on the charge of shooting and killing a young North African, Youssef Khaïf, ten years earlier.[24] Signatories of the petition protested that Hiblot’s acquittal was a parody of justice and a provocation to racial hatred, which they regarded as symptomatic of the climate of hysteria surrounding concerns about security at this time. They claimed that the court’s verdict amounted to issuing the police with a licence to kill, and reinstituting the death penalty for young people in deprived areas. The petition was signed by intellectuals, artists, trades-unionists, and by a number of MEPs. MIB, the ‘Mouvement de l’immigration et des banlieues’, also joined the campaign. An electronic network and website were set up to establish an independent forum for debate outside the mainstream media, which the group’s charter strongly criticized for failing to give such deaths at the hands of the police the front page coverage they merited.[25] Youssef Khaïf’s death is not an isolated case; the network also campaigned on behalf of other police victims such as Kader Bouziane and Aïssa Ihich. The aim was to monitor police excesses and their apparent judicial impunity, denouncing the complicity of the establishment. It is interesting to note that the existence of ‘Le Réseau contre la fabrique de la haine’ was mentioned in Le Monde, Libération, Politis, and Le Nouvel Observateur, but not to my knowledge in Le Figaro.

 

Demonisation by Le Figaro : the evidence

The sub-text of the title of this article is certainly not to suggest that this specific ‘anti-hate’ network sought to criticise Le Figaro in particular; the protest was aimed at reactionary ideology and the support for police repression which were gaining ground in the public arena more generally. Le Figaro, however, played a role in this, and prompted strong reader reactions in response to its outspoken journalism. On 5 October 2001, under the title ‘Dialogue avec nos lecteurs’, long-serving Le Figaro hard-liner Max Clos cites a letter from M. M. S. Boujdai of Courbevoie, who had written to complain of the racist hate he discerned in Clos’ column since 11 September, suggesting he had now revealed ‘…son véritable visage, celui de la haine que Max Clos a envers les Arabes musulmans.’ Reactions of this sort underlie the choice and the wording of the title of this article. Samples of journalism from Le Figaro will now serve to demonstrate why the newspaper might be seen to have merited the comparison with a ‘factory of hate’ over this period, living up to its reputation as a mouthpiece for reactionary views, and thus warranting the sort of critical attention for which TF1 was subsequently singled out.[26]

 

 Le Figaro’s coverage of the France-Algeria football match on 6 October 2001 was a prime example. Forty years after the end of the Algerian war, and at a time when a new war was being declared on Al-Qaida and Muslim terrorists, this first meeting of the French and Algerian football teams had become the focus of tremendous expectation, and assumed extraordinary symbolic significance. On the day of the match itself, in an editorial in Le Figaro entitled ‘France-Algérie: le test’, leader writer Ivan Rioufol declared with ominous prescience:

 

Le moindre signe sera interprété. Rarement match de football aura été autant chargé d’attentes que cette première rencontre France-Algérie à Paris. Le sport n’y sera pas sans doute la véritable vedette, tant l’histoire sera présente. Celle d’hier, avec la guerre d’indépendance; celle d’aujourd’hui, avec l’apparition du fascisme islamiste. L’affirmation d’une concorde est espérée ce soir. Ce n’est pas seulement la réconciliation entre la France et l’Algérie qui va se sceller sur un terrain de jeu. Un évitement du piège extrémiste, tendu par les intégristes, est également attendu. La manifestation d’un fondamentalisme conquérant qui conspuerait, par exemple, ‘La Marseillaise’ ou acclamerait Ben Laden risquerait de briser l’harmonie observée en France.[27]

 

Despite the superficially optimistic view of peaceful race relations in France projected here (and which Rioufol’s writing on the topic elsewhere belies), the pointed reference to the prospect of booing of La Marseillaise or Rioufol’s anticipation of signs of support for Bin Laden might be interpreted as deliberately hostile and provocative. Many disaffected youths of North African descent were acutely aware of the increased fears their Muslim identity engendered since 11 September. Conscious of the important media presence at the match and the attention focused on them, they had no intention of providing a demonstration of national harmony and reconciliation. 90% of the crowd were pro-Algerian; Algerian players were cheered ecstatically, while the French team were whistled and booed. The French team was ahead 4-1 when a pitch invasion by supporters draped in the Algerian flag halted play, and CRS security forces took over as tins and plastic bottles were thrown. The French national anthem ‘La Marseillaise’ was indeed greeted with whistles; young French citizens waved the Algerian flag defiantly in front of television cameras; and instances of provocative chanting in support of Bin Laden were reported.

 

Newspapers on the morning after the match summed up a sense of national shame, anger and revulsion, inspired by the descent of what should have been a glorious celebration of sporting prowess, racial harmony and international understanding into scenes of defiance and French humiliation. Headlines spoke of ‘dégoût’, ‘honte’, ‘tristesse’, ‘chaos’, ‘fiasco’. This was a landmark event, which led to markedly increased polarisation of press coverage. Yet whereas reports in Libération and Le Monde interpreted fans’ behaviour sympathetically, seeking to pacify tensions, and minimising and contextualising the offence caused,[28] reactions from Ivan Rioufol and Max Clos in Le Figaro[29] were hyperbolical, censorious and divisive. According to Clos, who expressed his verdict in broad, generalizing terms, ‘… ces jeunes, de nationalité française, haïssent la France, sont des Français de papier et non de coeur…’ He declared bluntly that these young people did not want integration. Their behaviour highlighted the dangers of communitarianism and civil war, ‘l’horrible perspective de la guerre civile’ which, according to Clos, was not far off. Rioufol spoke in the same vein:

 

Nombre d’enfants d’immigrés ne se sentent pas français. Pire: ils haïssent cette nation, dans laquelle ils ne se reconnaissent pas. Il s’agit bien d’un échec de la politique d’intégration. Echec confirmé par les témoignages recueillis dans les banlieues, faisant d’Oussama ben Laden, milliardaire saoudien, le nouveau symbole des déshérités de l’islam en France.

 

The journalists’ accusations of hate are accompanied by disdain and a distinctive blend of self-righteous moral concern bordering on provocation. Rioufol’s tone is intransigent: ‘Non, la République ne devrait pas tolérer que les enfants d’immigrés préfèrent arborer le drapeau de leurs parents ou puissent prétendre à la double nationalité.’ In his view, high profile immigrants such as French footballer Zinedine Zidane, who admit divided loyalties and pride in their mixed identity, should declare themselves French, and uniquely French. The behaviour of troublemakers at the match was regrettable. Yet, in the highly charged climate of the times, surely such intolerance and imputation of hate on the part of Le Figaro was itself only likely to breed yet deeper hate? As more sober, factual reports in the same newspaper related,[30] the majority of football spectators of Algerian origin were appalled and ashamed at the youngsters’ behaviour. Was it not Le Figaro here that was inflaming the situation and undermining the policy of integration?

 

In the days following the match, Le Figaro offered a platform to traditionalist nationalist politician Philippe de Villiers, leader of the Mouvement pour la France.[31] His reflections exemplify the political capital the Right derived from this televised demonstration of contempt for symbols of national pride, which De Villiers was quick to interpret as evidence of multiple political failures, notably in urban and immigration policy. Writing of suburbs abandoned to violence and hate, of terrorist arms caches, and no-go areas which served as a breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalism, De Villiers’s text demonstrates how readily the breakdown in law and order was exploited by the Right as a pretext to call for reform of immigration policy

 

Subsequently this historic football match was much cited as a shameful incident which had a deep effect on public morale in France. In December 2001, according to the findings of a Le Figaro Magazine-Sofres survey,[32] 64% of French people felt that the mood in the country had taken a turn for the worse. The euphoria of France’s multiracial football victory in the World Cup in July 1998 had been followed by three successful years of reductions in unemployment, greater optimism and social cohesion, and poignantly (in the light of what was to happen subsequently in the 2002 presidential election), an apparent decline in support for the far Right. The mood was thought to have worsened from spring 2001 onwards. The survey identified ‘insécurité’ as the main cause for concern (with a rise of 23 points on this score in a single year) and highlighted anxiety about an apparent collapse in the sense of collective social responsibility. The disrespectful behaviour of spectators at the football match, coupled with the absence of public condemnation from Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and other leading politicians present at the match, were reported to have made a deeply negative  impression on the national conscience.

 

The autumn of 2001 had been a period of growing discontent amongst the French police. Following the shooting of two police officers by armed robbers in Plessis-Trévise (Val de Marne) on 16 October, France saw the biggest wave of industrial action by police for many years.[33] Support for the forces of law and order is a traditional right-wing theme, and police grievances inspired increasingly indignant, partisan coverage in the columns of Le Figaro, especially from Ivan Rioufol. In a deliberately provocative piece on 6 December, under a title explicitly underlining his own transgression, ‘Ce qu’il ne faut pas dire’, Rioufol writes of unprecedented events, and claims there has been a complete breakdown in trust between the security forces and the State, and a descent into chaos:

 

Des policiers défilent à répétition. Des gendarmes, bravant leur statut militaire prohibant toute expression d’humeur, manifestent en uniforme. Avant eux, les juges s’étaient aussi affranchis de cette même interdiction, sans avoir jamais été rappelés à l’ordre. L’Etat ne tient plus ses troupes, qui ne le respectent plus.[34]

 

Following this alarmist picture of breakdown in law and order, Rioufol deliberately transgresses the limits of politically acceptable discourse, in defiance of what he refers to as the intellectual terrorism and political correctness of anti-racists, and directly attributes crime levels to supposedly uncontrolled immigration and the social and cultural disruption this causes.

 

Pouvoirs publics, responsables politiques, médias, tous refusent de s’arrêter sur une première évidence, qui pourtant saute aux yeux: l’insécurité est liée à une immigration incontrôlée et aux ruptures culturelles et sociales qu’elle engendre.

 

He claims it is not merely a matter of juvenile delinquency but outright rebellion on the part of sections of the community. He repeats Max Clos’ warning that the country is approaching a state of civil war:

 

Les scènes d’affrontements entre casseurs et forces de l’ordre guets-apens, attentats, fusillades prennent de plus en plus l’apparence d’une guerre civile. Le surarmement des cités, une kalachnikov s’achète aisément sur le marché clandestin des banlieues, peut légitimement faire craindre le pire.[35]

 

This particularly melodramatic text figures in Le Figaro’s opinion section rather than as an editorial, but it was not an isolated or unrepresentative piece. Presidential candidates such as Chevènement, Mégret and Le Pen were campaigning on the law and order platform, and Le Figaro took up this agenda, publishing exaggerated, tendentious, occasionally very disturbing articles, which magnified disorder and spread alarm, sometimes on the basis of half truths.[36]

 

Claris : deconstructing the discourse

The crescendo of inflammatory coverage did not go unnoticed. In January 2002, a number of academics, researchers and educationalists joined forces to create the pressure group Claris, and published a manifesto denouncing hysterical and alarmist discourse on ‘insécurité’. Some of the founders, such as Mucchielli, had been signatories of ‘Le Réseau contre la fabrique de la haine’. In December, an initiative loosely associated with the journal L’Esprit had also led to publication of a petition condemning the pernicious climate of suspicion, ‘L’Appel contre la suspicion généralisée’.[37] While Le Figaro served as platform for the Right, Libération hosted their critics and opponents. The specific aim of Claris was to bring clarity into the debate on ‘insécurité’, as set out in the manifesto published in Libération on 30 January 2002: ‘Clarifier le débat public sur l’insécurité; Au lieu de hurler avec les loups, médias et politiques feraient mieux de réfléchir aux raisons de la violence’ This was the classic conflict between reactionary and liberal thinkers. The Claris manifesto warned of the self-fulfilling prophecy whereby, by dint of repeatedly predicting that the election would be fought on the issue of ‘insécurité’, reactionary forces were making this a reality. The pressure group’s aim was to engage in critical analysis and deconstruction of discourse on the theme, especially the preoccupation with dramatic coverage of crime statistics, the obsession with the theme of violence in the media, and persistent exploitation of meaninglessly vague, catch-all themes such as ‘violences urbaines’ and ‘incivilités’ to describe socially unacceptable behaviour. The Claris manifesto was a protest against distorting amalgamation of diverse social phenomena, against demagogy, and the dramatic and sensational stigmatisation of whole social groups, especially young residents of poor urban areas.

 

Its timing was eloquent and certainly calculated in that it followed the day after an article published in Le Figaro on 29 January 2002, which exemplified many of the typical discourse features identified. The headline to the article by Jean-Marc Leclerc and Françoise Lemoine announced:

 

Insécurité. Face à une criminalité toujours plus jeune et plus violente, les policiers et les gendarmes baissent de régime. Les candidats à l’Elysée et les partis qui les soutiennent proposent leurs solutions. Délinquance: le bilan catastrophe.

 

Prompted by the official announcement of the Ministry of the Interior crime statistics for 2001, publication of a text of this sort was evidently anticipated. Yet what is striking is just how closely the Le Figaro article conforms once again to the stereotypical sensational coverage previously denounced by Mucchielli in ‘Violences et insécurité’ (2001). Following identification of the dominant theme ‘Insécurité’, the headline repeats the familiar but unsubstantiated claim that criminals are ever younger and more violent, in contrast to the forces of law and order, now adjudged by Le Figaro to be less responsive. The verdict is unremittingly negative : a catastrophe. Emotional rhetoric is deployed throughout the text. A 7.69% increase is presented as an  ‘explosion’, dramatically contrasted with an alleged ‘stagnation’ in prosecutions. The emphasis is on an alarming increase:  ‘Avec 4 061 792 crimes et délits … La délinquance progresse … Il y a plus inquiétant … etc’.[38]  No nuances, no exceptions, a historic record: violence is everywhere. Characteristically, there are suggestions of conspiracy: the figures are ‘revealed’; facts which might give cause for concern have been conveniently ‘lost’; the Ministry is guilty of deception -‘un tour de passe-passe’, in that, unlike Le Figaro, the Minister highlighted positive rather than negative aspects. Finally, the newspaper’s regular ‘expert’, Alain Bauer, is called upon for his verdict. He damns with faint praise, commenting that the Ministry is to be congratulated at least for its openness… an ironic tribute convincingly undermined by the preceding attack.

 

Reflections on impact and  influence

Despite such evidence, it is perhaps not surprising that it was not Le Figaro that was to be the target of left-wing protestors in April 2001. French newspapers in general, and national broadsheets in particular, have a relatively small readership. In 2001, the average circulation of Le Monde was 415 324 copies, in the case of Le Figaro 372 661 copies, and Libération a mere 174 310 copies.[39] Moreover, newspaper readership is to a large degree self-selecting. Consumers choose a newspaper which reflects their own political leanings. Regular Libé readers are unlikely to protest about articles in Le Figaro for the simple reason they do not read them. Television news, in contrast, attracts a mass audience from across the political spectrum; its influence is extensive, and the critical attention it receives is commensurate with this reach. Evening news on TF1 regularly attracted over ten million viewers at the time. However, the impact of French broadsheets should not be underestimated, for newspaper circulation figures can be a poor indicator of true influence. It is often in newspaper columns that intellectuals, political scientists, thinkers and opinion-makers air their views. As voices and ideas interact and resonate in the media echo chamber, newspaper columns may act as a springboard for news items which resurface subsequently on the radio, television and in other publications, as we saw in the case of Bauer’s and Quéré’s comparison of crime in France and the USA. It is also the case that some ideas are inherently more likely to capture the attention of a wide audience than others: Le Figaro’s high-profile, alarmist articles, repeatedly associating crime and immigration, will have had a much greater impact on the French electorate than the theories and persuasive analyses offered by the academic activists of Claris.

 



[1] Quoted in Le Monde, Libération and other newspapers on 11 May 2002. Dray claims that his words were mis-transcribed by Radio Shalom in press releases and what he said was TF Haine (not TFN). Whichever nickname was used, this was a damning indictment of the television channel.

[2] Florence Amalou reports on this research in ‘La télévision a accru sa couverture de la violence durant la campagne’, Le Monde, 28 May 2002.

[3] Full statistical reports on crime are available on the website of the Ministère de l’Intérieur: http://www.interieur.gouv.fr

[4] See F. Amalou in Le Monde, 28 May 2002.

[5] ‘L’insécurité trois fois plus citée’, Le Monde, 8 March 2002.

[6]  See F. Amalou’s report, ‘Les Français vivent leur journal télévisé comme une souffrance’, Le Monde, 27 November 2001.

[7]  Ibid.

[8]  Romuald Bodin, David Sorin, ‘Insécurité dans la Presse. Courbes subversives contre “effet torche”’, http://www.groupeclaris.com/

[9]  One of the few detailed studies of Le Figaro’s coverage of this sort of topic is to be found in Philippe Juhem’s thesis: SOS-Racisme: histoire d’une mobilisation ‘apolitique’. Contribution à une analyse des transformations des représentations politiques après 1981, doctorate supervised by Bernard Lacroix and awarded by the University of Paris X – Nanterre, December 1998. Chapter 3 focuses on ‘La couverture de SOS-Racisme par le journal Le Figaro: les contraintes de la critique’. For fuller information, see website: http://perso.club-internet.fr/juhem/

[10] See ‘Le Figaro Septembre – Décembre 2001: A la guerre comme  à la guerre. Le terrorisme vient de tout, le terrorisme est partout’

(http://acrimed.samizdat.net/article.php3?id_article=637) . This  article took the form of commentary on extracts from simplistic and exaggerated samples of journalism destined to polarise debate. Further critical analyses of Le Figaro have since been published on the Acrimed website.

[11] Laurent Mucchielli, Violences et insécurité. Fantasmes et réalités dans le débat français, La Découverte et Syros, 2001.

[12] Pierre Rimbert, ‘Omniprésence médiatique’, Le Monde diplomatique, February 2001; this analysis is developed more fully in La Machine à punir, Dagorno, Paris, 2001.

[13] Alain Bauer and Xavier Raufer, Violences et insécurités urbaines, Presses Universitaires de France, coll. Que sais-je?, no 3421, 1998.

[14] L. Mucchielli, ‘Les nouveaux “experts” de la sécurité’, in Violences et insécurité, 2001, pp.26-39. Mucchielli’s accusations can be consulted on his website: http://laurentmucchielli.free.fr, and are also discussed in articles on sites of left-wing groups such as Chiche! : http://chicheweb.org

[15] Jean-Marc Leclerc, ‘Sécurité. Les syndicats de police devancent l’embargo sur les chiffres officiels des crimes et délits; Délinquance; près de 12% d’augmentation pour le premier semestre’, Le Figaro, 22 June 2001.

[16] The overall rate of increase for 2001 reported in official statistics from the Ministry of the Interior and published in Le Figaro on 29 January 2002 was 7.69%.

[17] J-M Leclerc, ‘Délinquance. Les détonants résultats d’une comparaison entre les statistiques criminelles du ministère de l’Intérieur et celles du FBI ; La France plus criminogène que les Etats-Unis’, Le Figaro, 18 June 2001.

[18] Patrice Bergougnoux, ‘Garder le cap contre la délinquance’, Le Monde, 25 June 2001.

[19] Patricia Tourancheau, ‘Douteux audits alarmistes’, Libération, 26 June 2001, and L. Mucchielli, ‘La France, les Etats-Unis et la violence’, Le Monde, 21 July 2001.

[20] See ‘La France, les Etats-Unis et la violence’, Le Monde, 21 July 2001

[21] Chirac faced accusations of financial impropriety, in particular the charge he had financed private travel from secret sources. In early July, despite his personal immunity from prosecution as President, his daughter Claude and close colleagues found themselves compelled to give evidence to examining magistrates, and Chirac was under pressure to justify himself publicly.

[22] The full transcript of the interview was published in Le Monde, 15 July 2001.

[23] See Le Figaro 20 July 2001, pp. 1 and 6.

[24] The full text of the petition, a list of signatories and the charter of the network: ‘Réseau contre la fabrique de la haine. Réseau contre les violences policières et l’idéologie sécuritaire’, and associated documents may be consulted at http://reseau.fabrique.free.fr/

[25] The full text of the network’s charter was published after approval at a general meeting on 29 January 2002.

[26]  A year later, in October 2002, Acrimed published an article by Laurent Daguerre: ‘Le Figaro. Yvan Rioufol, digne successeur de Max Clos’, highlighting what Daguerre described as ‘un florilège de la pensée réactionnaire’ identified in Le Figaro’s column ‘Bloc notes’ in the autumn of 2002 (http://acrimed.samizdat.net/article.php3?_article =765). This piece includes passages on the topic of immigration,  illustrating similar characteristics to those explored here.

[27]  Ivan Rioufol, ‘France-Algérie’, Le Figaro, 6 October 2001.

[28] See for example Gilles Dhers, Dino Dimeo, David Revault d’Allonnes,‘Débordements d’enthousiasme; Foot. Le premier France-Algérie de l’histoire a été interrompu après l’envahisssement du terrain’, Libération, 8 October 2001;  Etienne Labrunie, ‘76e minute, des spectateurs envahissent la pelouse du Stade de France’, Le Monde, 9 October 2001; and also the article by Azouz Begag and Christian Delorme, ‘Energumènes ou energ-humains?’, Le Monde, 13 October 2001.

[29]  M. Clos, ‘L’intégration est morte’, Le Figaro, 12 October 2001, and I. Rioufol, ‘France-Algérie. Le match a révélé l’ampleur de la faillite de l’intégration; Comment tirer les leçons d’un fiasco’, Le Figaro, 13 October 2001.

[30] Martin Couturie, Thierry Oberle, ‘Plongeon au coeur des événements parisiens entre samedi 18h30 et dimanche 2 heures du matin; Sifflets, bêtise et haute tension’, Le Figaro, 8 October 2001.

[31]  Philippe de Villiers, ‘France-Algérie. Retour sur les incidents qui ont perturbé le match au Stade de France; Les leçons d’un scandale’, Le Figaro, 15 October 2001.

[32]  See Jérôme Jaffré’s report on the survey: ‘Les Français inquiets, les politiques déphasés’, Le Monde, 20 December 2001.

[33]  See reports in Le Monde, 25 October, 17 November and 6 December 2001.

[34]  Ivan Rioufol, ‘Insécurité. Quand l’Etat abandonne la dernière de ses fonctions régaliennes; Ce qu’il ne faut pas dire’, Le Figaro, 6 December 2001.

[35]  Ibid.

[36]  In this article, for example, Rioufol claims that up to 80% of the population of some prisons consisted of North Africans; a figure clearly intended to imply, misleadingly, that this might be representative of Maghrebi  offending rates more generally.

[37]  Brigitte Vital-Durand, ‘Pétition contre l’acquittement du policier Hiblot, Libération, 6 October 2001; B. Vital-Durand, ‘Un réseau contre “l’hystérie sécuritaire”,   Libération, 3 December 2001; Françoise-Marie Santucci, ‘Eveil militant contre “l’hystérie  sécuritaire”’,  Libération, 4 February 2002.

[38]  Characters in bold indicate my emphasis.

[39]  Official circulation figures verified and published by Diffusion Contrôle : http://www.diffusion-contrôle.com/fr/chiffres/