Phung Tien Cong Huyen Nu, Marlène Coulomb-Gully, Jean-
Jacques Renault, Maurice Tournier & Yunson Yic-Choi,
Présidentielle, regards sur les discours télévisés. Paris:
Editions Nathan/Institut national de l'audiovisuel, 1995 and
Guy Drouot (ed.), Les campagnes électorales radiotélévisées.
Aix-en-Provence: Presses Universitaires d'Aix-
Marseille/Economica, Collection Droit de l'audiovisuel, 1995.
Much of French analysis of political communication has been
concerned with linguistic aspects of candidates' discourse,
concentrating on the persuasive mechanisms of debate and argument
in terms of rhetorical structures or semantics and lexis (Cotteret and
Moreau, 1969; Roche, 1971; Cotteret et al., 1976; Labbé, 1990). Such
research has tended either to rely on personalised interpretations, or
to be heavily quantitative, based on massive concordance studies.
Other French approaches have concentrated on legal features of
election campaigns or deal with questions of campaign finances
(Debbasch, 1989; Philizot, 1992; Bon, 1993), of 'balance' in media news
coverage, or narrowly concerned with election debate programmes
(Nel, 1990; Gerstlé et al., 1992; Coulomb-Gully, 1994).
In France, de Gaulle's stylistic mastery of the televised address
to the nation in the 1960s, and lingering repercussions of state control
of television and radio had somehow seemed to freeze televised
political communication in the past during the 1970s and early-1980s,
but in the late-1980s and 1990s, campaign broadcasts have been
changing, becoming more complex in format and visually richer in a
process of what is generally termed the 'modernisation' (or
Americanisation') of French political communication. Since the de
Gaulle period, French media analysis has developed a considerable
literature on the interactions between television and politics, including
elections (Blumler et al., 1978; Bourdon, 1990), nevertheless
neglecting until relatively recently the study of modern direct political
communication (Cayrol, 1986; Gourevitch, 1989). It is this relative
neglect that edited studies such as those of Phung Tien Cong Huyen Nu
and Guy Drouot help to combat.
Présidentielle and Les campagnes électorales radiotélévisées
represent two useful and interesting contributions to the study of
French political communication. The approaches of the two books are
different but complementary, in that Présidentielle focuses
exclusively on the French Presidential election of 1988 and Les
campagnes électorales radiotélévisées presents a comparative and
historical analysis of French TV and radio campaigns, leavened with
studies of British, Spanish and German audiovisual political
communication. As editor, Guy Drouot has brought together interesting
contributions, mainly describing the legal and historical development
of French political broadcasting, and unfortunately (and of course
unavoidably) stopping short of an assessment of the Presidential
election of 1995.
It is indeed unfortunate that two such accomplished studies
should appear before the first elections which arguably saw the major
real use of new techniques in the Official television campaign, fully
thirty years after the first broadcasts required by law in 1965. In
comparison with contemporary US and British use of political spots
and 'party political broadcasts', it can seem that the 30 year French
experience of this form of political communication has developed
slowly, constrained by regulatory concerns and pressures specific to
French politics and media. Nevertheless, 1995 saw the first
appearance (amidst some controversy) of presidential spot broadcasts
following American models.1 Whereas in 1988, viewers and parties
were coming to accept the use of video-clip techniques inserted into
more traditionally styled broadcasts, in 1995 the Socialist candidate
Lionel Jospin went a tentative stage further in incorporating video
imagery, only to see the broadcasts of Chirac and minor candidates
such as Philippe de Villiers and Dominique Voynet use new
techniques with some flair and assurance.2
Attitudes in France towards televised spots have evolved
rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s, but whatever the past
indifference and mistrust of the French political classes and voters to
electoral broadcasts, they are now attracting the attention of parties
and candidates concerned to modernise their communication, and
increasingly, viewers, as is pointed out by Isabelle Mariani in Les
campagnes électorales. In the past, before the freeing of the regulation
of political broadcasting allowed by the CSA in the early 1990s the
Official campaign had been almost ignored by viewers only too ready
to switch channels to avoid the broadcasts on the public service
stations. As a counterpart to Mariani's analysis of the growing
popularity of modernised candidate and party broadcasts, another
chapter of Les campagnes électorales investigates the input of
producers in the creation of spots, whose main problem is keeping
within the constraints laid down on political broadcasting not only by
audiovisual regulatory bodies such as the CSA (or its predecessor the
CNCL) but by the Electoral Code, the Constitutional Council and the
Commission nationale de contrôle.
Briefly and usefully summarised in part of a chapter on France
in a recent collection of studies in English (Johnston and Gerstlé,
1995), the complexities of the legal aspects of French electoral
television are thoroughly presented in Les campagnes électorales.
Where this study makes up for its more traditional legal and
regulatory approach to the study of French political broadcasting is
indeed in its provision of annexes laying out the main laws and other
texts governing what may and may not be shown in broadcasts, when
broadcasts may be screened and how they are to be produced. Thus
we can find the clause prohibiting the use of the Tricolour flag or even
the showing of the colours blue, white and red in combination in
political spots (Décision CNCL 88-73, article 6., 5. (e)), and that for
recording spoken elements of TV spots shorter than five minutes
candidates and parties can use the facilities of the Société française de
production (SFP) for no longer than 90 minutes (CNCL 88-73, article
14.). Although studies of French elections often give succinct
interpretations of the legal aspects of French political spots, given the
complexities of the regulation of French political broadcasting it is
very useful to find the principal constraints on the creation and
screening of spots set out in no more than 120 pages !
Due partly to the somewhat old-fashioned nature of most party
and candidate broadcasts, little attention has been paid to their visual
aspects (such as the prohibition of blue, white and red). The visual
analysis of French political communication is only now becoming a
fruitful field of research for students of French politics and media.
Recent studies have remarked on the limited existing general
literature on party broadcasts (Johnston, 1991; Holtz-Bacha et al.,
1994), and provided some analysis. A useful section by Jean-Jacques
Renault in Présidentielle addresses precisely the issue of imagery with
a breakdown of Mitterrand's famous 1988 video clip of his 'La France
unie' campaign. By classifying the 800 images presented in one
minute 18 seconds, it can be seen how the visual imagery is a
summary and reminder of France's unity and history, and of
Mitterrand's place in that past, present and future. It is in the
practical analysis of actual broadcasts and campaigns that
Présidentielle proves itself to be the livelier treatment of the topic,
giving breakdowns of the gestures and posture of Jacques Chirac, as
well as linguistic analyses of his addresses, considerations of the décor
and direction of spots of candidates such as Raymond Barre, Pierre
Juquin and Jean-Marie Le Pen (amongst others).3 Perhaps in
reflection of the importance of themes of immigration, racism and
extreme-right intolerance in French politics and society, the entire
second half of abandons the study of individual candidates' campaigns
Présidentielle to devote itself to an examination of 'representations of
foreigners' in election period news programmes, in the broadcasts of
the Official campaign itself, in interviews and debates with candidates
and in a excerpt of argument from Jean-Marie Le Pen himself. Again,
this is a useful contribution to an increasing awareness of the visual
significance of broadcast imagery in political election campaigns. Some
recent studies of political spots have precisely suggested that the
choices of 'picturing of culture' used in them reveals much about
societies and the ideologies of parties and candidates (Griffin and
The peculiarities of the French electoral system (such as two-
round voting and the participation of numerous candidates and
parties) have always made French political communication a varied
and complex phenomenon. As French politics and society evolve from
the simple bipolar framework of the earlier Fifth Republic towards a
system in which competition is more and more for the middle ground
of centre-Left and centre-Right, political spots will have to persuade
and reassure in increasingly more sophisticated ways. The general
conclusion of Présidentielle stresses not only the great variety of
strategies adopted by the nine candidates in 1988 but also the 'poly-
semiotic' nature of each television broadcast. In terms of analysis, the
semiotic richness of political spots reinforces the need for new studies
of imagery to complement older linguistic approaches, but also, as
Présidentielle underlines, risks the potential confusion of viewers,
saturated by multi-media onslaughts on their political loyalties. In
addition, the technical, media dominated nature of some political
broadcasting seems to confirm the fear voiced by more traditional
commentators on French political communication in the 1980s that the
'content' of electoral debate will be devalued and themes of campaigns
In its perhaps more limited perspective, Les campagnes
électorales radiotélévisées presents the view that the modernisation
of the Official campaign in France has improved electoral
communication in the 1980s and 1990s under the watchful eye of the
regulatory bodies such as the CSA and the CNCL, and that the
possibilities opened (for good and ill) by new technologies of multi-
media, virtuality and interactivity will continue to do so within the
framework of strict republican equality between candidates and
parties. With uncertainty over the future of the Société française de
production, the continuation of social and political problems caused by
high unemployment and immigration and the new technical means
increasingly adopted by political spots, the Legislative elections
scheduled for 1998 promise to provide interesting material for
analysis combining elements from both Présidentielle and Les
University of Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom
1 For a summary of the thesis that French political communication is
being 'Americanised', see Jacques Gerstlé, Keith R. Sanders & Lynda
Lee Kaid. Commonalities, Differences and Lessons Learned from
Comparative Communication Research, pp. 271-82 in Kaid, et al.,
2Visual analysis of the video-clip sequences of the independent
Right-wing presidential candidate de Villiers shows how the
imagery selected conveys a traditional view of France's rural past
married to evocations of her present prestige as an advanced
industrial nation. The imagery of the Green Party candidate,
Dominique Voynet used new techniques well, combining imagery of
'republican values' and solidarity with urban blight and pollution.
3 The study covers the nine candidates: Mitterrand, Chirac, Barre,
Boussel, Juquin, Laguiller, Lajoinie, Le Pen, Waechter.
Blumler, J. G., Thoveron, G. and R. Cayrol (1978). La télévision fait-elle
l'élection ? Une analyse comparative, France, Grande-Bretagne,
Belgique. Paris: Presses de la FNSP.
Bon, P. (1993) 'Aspects récents du contrôle des campagnes électorales
en France'. Revue française de droit commun 13: 59-89.
Bourdon, J. (1990) Histoire de la télévision sous de Gaulle. Paris:
Cayrol, R. (1986) La nouvelle communication politique. Paris: Larousse.
Cotteret, J.-M., and R. Moreau. (1969) Recherches sur le vocabulaire du
général de Gaulle. Analyse statistique des allocutions radiodiffusées
1958-1965. Paris: FNSP.
Cotteret, J.-M., C. Emeri, Gerstlé, J. and R. Moreau. (1976) Giscard
d'Estaing - Mitterrand, 54 774 mots pour convaincre. Paris: PUF.
Coulomb-Gully, M. (1994) Radioscopie d'une campagne. La
représentation politique au journal télévisé. Paris: Kimé.
Debbasch, C. (1989) 'Le principe d'égalité dans les médias audiovisuels
et la campagne électorale', in Campagnes électorales, principe
d'égalité et transparence financière. Paris: Economica.
Gerstlé, J., Sanders, K. R. and L. L. Kaid. (1991) 'Commonalities,
Differences and Lessons Learned from Comparative Communication
Research' in Kaid, et al., Mediated politics in two cultures:
Presidential campaigning in the United States and France . New
Gerstlé, J., Duhamel, O., and R. D. Roberts. (1992) 'La couverture
télévisée des campagnes présidentielles aux Etats-Unis et en
France', Pouvoirs (63): 53-77.
Gourevitch, J.-P. (1989) 'Le clip politique', Revue française de science
politique 39 (1): 21-33.
Griffin, M. and S. Kagan. (1996) 'Picturing Culture in Political Spots:
1992 campaigns in Israel and the United States', Political
Holtz-Bacha, C., Kaid, L. L., and A. Johnston. (1994) 'Political Television
Advertising in Western Democracies: A Comparison of Campaign
broadcasts in the United States, Germany and France', Political
Communication 11: 67-80.
Johnston, A. (1991) 'Political Broadcasts: An Analysis of Form, Content,
and Style in Presidential Communication', in Kaid, L. L., Gerstlé, J.
and K. R. Sanders, Mediated politics in two cultures: Presidential
campaigning in the United States and France . New York: Praeger.
Johnston, A. and J. Gerstlé (1995) 'The role of television broadcasts in
promoting French presidential candidates', in Kaid, L. L. and C.
Holtz-Bacha, (Eds.), Political advertising in western democracies:
Parties and candidates on television. London: Sage.
Kaid, L. L., Gerstlé, J. and K. R. Sanders, Mediated politics in two
cultures: Presidential campaigning in the United States and France .
New York: Praeger.
Kaid, L. L. and C. Holtz-Bacha, (Eds.). (1995). Political advertising in
western democracies : Parties and candidates on television. London:
Labbé, D. (1990) Le vocabulaire de François Mitterrand. Paris: FNSP.
Nel, N. (1990) Le Débat télévisé. Paris: Armand Colin.
Philizot, F. (1992) 'Campagne éléctorale : quel rôle pour l'Etat ?',
Pouvoirs (63): 29-38.
Roche, J. (1971) Le style des candidats à la présidence de la
République. Toulouse: Privat.