French Culture in Party and Presidential Political Spots of the early 1990s

Hugh Dauncey (University of Newcastle upon Tyne, h.d.dauncey@ncl.ac.uk)

This article examines the increasing French use of 'video-clip' political spots in the broadcasts of the Official television campaigns for Legislative and Presidential elections. Consistently condemned since their first use in 1965 as dull and unpersuasive by viewers and analysts alike, since 1988, party and candidate broadcasts have integrated 'American' techniques of video imagery in - for France - innovative strategies of mediating reality and visual representation. Party broadcasts of the 1993 Legislative elections and candidate broadcasts of the 1995 Presidential campaign illustrate the first stages of the picturing of French culture in political spots. In presenting the debate in France in the mid-1980s and early 1990s over adopting modern techniques of political advertising in French political communication, and in analysing the visual structure and symbolism of spots from 1993 and 1995, this study considers how the picturing of French culture differs between different political formations, as the major parties of the Left and Right adopted new techniques with varying enthusiasm and expertise, and as smaller parties revealed their preferences in constructing political reality. Still constrained by the evolving regulatory framework for French political television and by the political context of mid-1990s France, the imagery of broadcasts show how the Right tends to organise pictures of France dominated by a blend of 'traditional life' and France's modern prestige as an advanced industrial nation, whereas the Left emphasises the political and cultural values of Republican liberty, equality and fraternity.

The study of French television campaign spots and their 'imagery' has seemingly been neglected. In summarising the traditional concentration of British and US research into 'image' on candidates' 'presentation of self' and on their projected personalities, Griffin and Kagan (1996) recently emphasised the lack of analysis of 'images' and 'imagery' in political communication in general, and produced their own study of the 'picturing of culture' in Israeli and American campaign spots. 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; Cong Huyen Nu et al., 1995). Such research has tended to rely on personalised interpretations, or be heavily quantitative, based on massive concordance studies.Other French approaches have concentrated on legal features of election campaigns or dealing with questions of campaign finances (Debbasch, 1989; Doublet, 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), but, due partly to the somewhat old-fashioned nature of most party and candidate broadcasts, little attention has been paid to their visual aspects.

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 literature on party broadcasts (Holtz-Bacha et al., 1994, p. 69), and provided some comparative analysis. In France, de Gaulle's 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 fix 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 termed the 'modernisation' 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; Virieu, 1990), nevertheless neglecting until relatively recently the study of modern direct political communication (Cayrol, 1986; Gerstlé, 1989).

After the ice-breaking (comparative) analysis of the 1988 presidential campaign by Johnston (1991) and the anticipatory study of Johnston and Gerstlé (1995), the Presidential elections of 1995 offer indeed an appropriate point for an assessment of French campaign broadcasts, since 1965 saw the first use of the 'Official radio and television campaign' required by law in France for major elections (Cayrol and Parodi, 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 (Drouot, 1995; Gueydan, 1995). Nevertheless, 1995 saw the first appearance (amidst some controversy) of presidential spot broadcasts following American models.1

Comparative studies of the French and US 1988 Presidential elections suggested that the greater cultural homogeneity of France compared with the US allowed 'culture' to assume greater importance there in election campaigns than in America (Kaid et al., 1991). Much depends, of course, on what we mean by 'culture', but it has long seemed that a symbolic, semiotic study of the visual (as opposed tolinguistic, or narrowly political) cultural aspects of French election television has been overdue. This present analysis of the 'cultural' symbols and referents of campaign spots from Left and Right in the parliamentary and presidential elections of the mid- 1990s hopes to provide some interesting insights into both French politics and culture, responding to the assertion that 'culture' is likely to be important in TV campaign broadcasts, and also assessing the modernising development of the TV communication of parties and candidates. The 'modernisation' of techniques and attitudes in French political communication is indeed the condition of 'picturing culture' in party and candidate broadcasts, since the debate over TV political marketing in France has centred around the use of video-clips and imagery: for example, the use of the tricolour colours red, white and blue is prohibited by law.

In presenting briefly the main features of the political spots used by parties in the 1993 Parliamentary elections and (in more detail) by candidates in the 1995 Presidential elections, and suggesting some interpretations of the imagery they employ, this article aims to further the visual study of French political television. Our choice of corpus - the broadcasts of the Official television and radio campaigns required by French electoral law - provides a homogenous selection of spots created and screened in similar conditions, following the example set (with different priorities) by Cong Huyen Nu et al. (1995).

Attitudes in France towards televised spots have evolved rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s, and thus before looking in detail at the campaign spots used in 1993 and 1995, it will be useful to consider the arguments in political and media circles in France over the adoption of new techniques of political advertising. 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 (Mariani, 1995; CSA, 1995).

Video-clips: Debate in the 1980s and the 1993 Legislative elections

The use of video clips in the 1993 Parliamentary elections represented the interim conclusion of a debate over 'la communication politique'  in France in general, and over 'la publicité politique'  in particular. The first real discussion of TV political advertising arose in December 1985, when the Electoral Code was modified by the then Haute Autorité de la communication audiovisuelle  (the regulatory body of French audiovisual media) to prohibit the use of press or audiovisual political advertising during  election campaigns.

Early debate: Video-clips as 'Shock-wave' or 'Miracle solution'?

In 1986, the political commentator and historian René Rémond described the potential authorisation of TV political advertising as a 'shock-wave', and interpreted parties' hesitancy to adopt these new methods of political communication as fear that electors would be manipulated. Rémond was prepared to accept modern political communication but felt that advertising would remove equality between parties, given the financial implications of access to TV, and feared that the increased 'professionalisation' of politics brought about by greater recourse to media experts would increasingly divorce the political classes from electors (Benoît et al., 1986, pp. 12-13).2 The Legislative elections of 1986 witnessed the use of new televisual video advertising techniques in party campaign broadcasts, where 'vidéogrammes'  (films, spots and clips) were tolerated up to 33% of the programme duration. Authorised in December 1985, this freedom to experiment with modern techniques was intended to renew public interest in the election broadcasts whilst guaranteeing that at least two thirds of each programme be composed of traditional political discourse.

During 1986 and 1987 the CNCL (new regulatory body) consulted with parties and with the audiovisual sector to resolve the nascent conflict over the use of political advertising. It became clear that both the political classes and industry experts were divided between sceptics such as Rémond, and others seeing the spot as a 'miracle solution' for the renewal of politics (Gourevitch, 1989, p. 30). Michel Rocard (Socialist Prime minister 1988-91) felt strongly that the main danger of new media techniques was that 'spectacle is the enemy of efficacy', and that in political communication 'courtesy' was the criterion of acceptable behaviour (Rocard, 1988, p. 24). The Right wing parties were in general favourable to political advertising (the RPR, the UDF, the PR, the FN) and the Left wing and centre parties were against (the PS, the PC and the CDS). In the view of the ruling Right-wing majority, the use of TV campaigns would improve the quality of political discourse by breaking the traditional hold of 'la langue de bois' (impenetrable political jargon). In the view of the Socialist-led opposition, TV political advertising would lower the level of political debate and contribute to declining respect for the political classes.

The general public was similarly unimpressed with the prospect of television political advertising, and sceptical about the potential efficacy of party advertising, since fully81% opined that a TV commercial would not change their view of a politician or of a party, and only 11% declared that their opinion might be changed (Bonnet, 1987). In contrast, some experts felt that political advertising might in fact be easily integrated into the customs and rulings of French politics and television (Saussez, 1986).

Presidential elections 1988: Mitterrand's 'La France unie'

In July 1987 the 'loi Léotard'  reiterated the prohibition of political advertising during election campaigns, but the Presidential election of 1988 forced another step towards greater acceptance of video clips as part of normal political communication. President Mitterrand's campaign (centred around the slogan 'La France unie'  - 'An united France') included a controversial video-sequence produced by the advertising professional Jacques Séguela, which in the space of 90 seconds presented a chronological barrage of 500 images of French history, politics and culture from 1789 to 1988.3 Analysis of this spot has revealed its organising principle to be the construction of unity around the candidate (Renault, 1995). In recognition of technical developments since the previous Presidential elections of 1981, the CNCL had authorised concessions concerning the candidates' official campaign broadcasts, notably use of tele-prompters, free choice of producer, outside footage and up to 40% of video material in total broadcast time.

The elections of 1988 were recognised by the Commission nationale de contrôle  to represent a break with the traditional format and organisation of Presidential elections, essentially because of the huge increase in 'political communication' of all kinds that they had entailed. In addition, given the FF. 35 million cost of the Official radio-television campaign borne by the state, the Commission criticised the low audience figures for the candidates' official  broadcasts, thereby implicitly lending weight to the view that the Official campaign should be made more attractive (Documentation française, 1988; Kajman, 1988). Mitterrand's clip led the way in modernising TV political communication, and set the style of imagery in invoking history, community and unity.

In January 1989 the Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel  (CSA - the second new broadcasting regulatory body) inherited the somewhat confusing rulings of the CNCL concerning television political communication and moved towards a freeing up of parties' access to newer styles and techniques of political broadcasts. In 1990, Thierry Saussez, an advertising consultant close to the RPR (who had been calling for the liberalisation and modernisation of French political communication since1983) interpreted the slow movement towards up-to-date political advertising as proof of the 'archaic' nature of French political classes (Saussez, 1990, p. 182). In 1992 the autumn Referendum campaign over Maastricht fuelled debate over the rôle and extent of 'political communication', since the TV 'information campaign' on Maastricht planned by the government was hastily withdrawn after protests by Right- wing deputies that it was too heavily biased in favour of Europe had caused the CSA to remind the government of the prohibition of 'émissions publicitaires à caractère politique'  (Rollat, 1992).

1993: Easing regulation of the Official campaign.

The CSA has the responsibility of organising the Official television and radio campaigns required by law in the Electoral Code for the Legislative and Presidential elections. For the Legislative elections, parties must share a total broadcast time of three hours for the first round campaign and one and a half hours for the second round campaign, divided proportionally to the seats held in the outgoing National Assembly. Table 1. below demonstrates the distribution of broadcast time for major parties in the Legislative elections of 1993.4

Table 1. Total broadcast time authorised by CSA (Législatives 1993)

Party or Group

Round 1

Round 2

Total

Seats

Groupe communiste (PC)

15’

7.5’

22.5’

24

Groupe Socialiste (PS)

75’

37.5’

112.5’

269

Groupe RPR

45’

22’

67’

122

Groupe UDF and Union du centre

45’

23’

68’

139

 

(3h)

(1h30m)

(4h30m)

 

By 1993, the CSA had realised that the election broadcasts of previous televised campaigns had been lacklustre and old-fashioned, failing to attract and inform viewers. In the desire better to inform, and satisfying the parties' growing demands for newer, more exciting broadcast formats (without recourse to commercial political advertising), the Conseil  decided to modernise the Official campaign through two innovations. Firstly, parties were given access to a greater range of programmeformats, and secondly, broadcasts were to be screened more frequently, and at times more likely to attract large audiences.

Diversification of programme formats encouraged use of the videoclip style of broadcast, since the CSA authorised short spots ('petits modules' ) of one to three minutes duration where video images were to be as important, or more important than words, and longer spots of four or five minutes length ('grands modules' ) incorporating video-clip sequences within more traditional approaches (Chemin, 1993). Parties were also authorised to use video sequences of their own creation in conjunction with the facilities of the state-controlled Société française de production (SFP), within the limits of 40% of a 'grand module'  or 50% of a 'petit module' .

We shall now consider the content of the election broadcasts of the Legislative elections of 1993. For the Socialists (PS/AFP), fatigued by office, weakened by economic difficulties and political scandals, the campaign objective was damage limitation. For the centre-Right opposition (RPR and UDF), merely revealing Socialist weaknesses could obtain success. The television strategies of the parties reflected these differing concerns, and revealed other differences through their choice of imagery.5

PS/AFP Party Election Clips 1993

Following Rocard's concerns over 'spectacle' in political communication, sobriety characterised the Socialist's 1993 TV campaign. In format and duration the short mid-evening broadcasts were the major innovation, using a standard visual format of a plain white background against which talking heads of politicians, soberly attired in dark suits and ties stood out starkly. Accompanying music was generally similarly wistful. Table 2. below shows the range of these innovative short spots.    

Table 2. PS/AFP Short Spots Screened Mid-Evening (Législatives 1993)

 

Title

Theme

Presenters

Duration

1

Et l’emploi ?

Unemployment

Intro-vox pop

+ M. Aubry

120 secs

2

Et les banlieues ?

Urban renewal

Intro vox pop

+ D. Strauss-Kahn

60 secs

3

Et la droite ?

Duplicity of Right

C. Dufour

+ C. Fleutiaux

60 secs

4

Et les retraités ?

Funding pensions

Intro vox pop

+ Ch. Pierret

60 secs

5

Et demain ?

Solidarity

P. Bérégovoy

60 secs

6

Etre radical

Radicalism

Y. Collin (MRG)

60 secs

7

Et les jeunes ?

Facilities for youth

Into vox pop

+ F. Bredin

120 secs

8

Et demain ?

Crisis of values

Intro vox pops + M. Rocard + vox pop

120 secs

9

Et dimanche ?

Dangers of Right

Intro vox pops +

C. Dufour

60 secs

10

-

Values of the Left

J-F. Hory (MRG)

120 secs

11

Et dimanche ?

Appeal for support

M. Rocard

120 secs

12

Et dimanche ?

Limit Right majority

L. Fabius

60 secs

The common graphic slogan appearing as an 'ink stamp' after each clip was an appeal to the perennial Left wing value of 'Progress'. The slogan - 'Il y aura toujours un camp en faveur du progrès - je vote à gauche' ('There will always be a side in favour of progress - I'm voting Left') was an atypical example (in the short spots) of new visual techniques reiterating traditional values, (despite the obsolete office technology of the ink stamp).6 As one new feature, half the clips used very brief initial vox pops: the problem of the banlieues (poor suburbs) was prefaced by footage of a baseball-capped black and his voiced desire to 'live a normal life'. The vox-pops themselves provided the imagery, representing Socialist values and issues in visual and speaking form.

The PS used longer clips than other parties, favouring the two minute module. The Socialists were obliged both to defend their record and promise policies - requiring talk and time, arguably at the expense of imagery - indeed, a reported comment from the PS on the short spots was that they had 'been had' (Chemin, 1993). Second round broadcasts appealed for final support, but more than half the first round broadcasts also aimed to discredit the Right. For the beleaguered government, the short format videoclips proved the fear that brevity (and visual impact) could banish more complex political debate (Marti, 1988, p. 48). Longer PSAFP broadcasts were more detailed, although sharing many features of the short clips. The longer modules gave greater place and frequency to vox pops in alternation with two or more presenters, and it is here that visual imagery becomes more important. Traditional 'Left values' were emphasised through vox pops underscoring solidarity, fraternity and equality, organising a package of Left-wing political and cultural values.Vox pops were drawn from a 'cast' of citizen-voters, whose Left-wing credentials were obvious not only in what they said, but from their jobs and surroundings. Left- wing identity seemed to being constructed by the usual reference to social class. Some vox pops appeared on different broadcasts, showing that their impact was as much one of socio-professional-political association as rational persuasion. The short broadcast 'Et dimanche ?'  (the French always vote on Sundays) screened as a final appeal started with a 15-second vox pop sequence neatly illustrating this evocation of the 'side of progress' in French society: a series of six 'character witnesses' echoed the sound bite of the first (a physiotherapist) that 'Je vote Socialiste parce que je crois en certaines valeurs' . The other vox pops, a local doctor, a student, a cook, a retired man and a young nursing mother all exemplified values of solidarity, sharing, liberty, equal opportunities, humanism, truth and of advances made since 1981.7

RPR Party Election Clips 1993

The RPR adopted a less overtly thematic approach to their short broadcasts. These spots relied on single politicians presenting their thoughts on matters purportedly close to their hearts, a personalised style reinforced after each broadcast by the appearance on a white screen of the signature of each presenter, accompanied by a 'thought bite' usually hand-written, but sometimes typeset, and the RPR slogan of 'La réforme maintenant' (  'Reform Now !').8 The following Table 3. briefly presents these RPR short spots.  

Table 3. RPR Short Spots Screened Mid-Evening (Législatives 1993)

 

Theme

Presenters

Duration

1

Gulf between the French and politics

P.-H. Cugnenc

60 secs

2

Maintaining rural communities

Ch. Cabrol

60 secs

3

Training, delinquency, security

A. Cuille

60 secs

4

Dialogue with youth

Y. Lessard

60 secs

5

Suburbs and fraternity

P. Bédier

60 secs

6

Common sense - creating wealth before redistribution

Ph. Briand

60 secs

7

Common sense - unemployment, believing in people

A. Courtat

60 secs

8

Preparing the future with openness

A. Carignon

60 secs

9

Getting the state back to work, sensible decentralisation

Ph. Séguin

60 secs

10

Innovation from French people

J. Toubon

90 secs

11

Victory, new government, socialism a thing of the past

A. Juppé

60 secs

The standard format of RPR spots appeared the most felicitous in its use of modern techniques. After introductory mention of the party name, the spots presented talking heads in boxes which expanded, losing frame and name of speaker, to fill the whole screen. Thus established, the speaker's presentation of sound-bites alternated with rapid video sequences backed by appropriately-toned music.9

Every broadcast contained video of party leader Jacques Chirac meeting voters in a market. Imagery of the market, (filmed as hand-held documentary) blended new techniques with an imagined France of old-style neighbourliness. RPR broadcasts promoted their presenters, since not only were professions and constituencies identified, but video also presented them working and canvassing.10In these insights into the lives and jobs of the candidates, imagery of their professions created an implied consensus of middle-class values of free-market individual enterprise. Professions illustrated conflicted with the work of the PSAFP vox pops: instead of nurses, doctors, mechanics and students, the RPR presented surgeons, professors of medicine, senior civil servants and managing directors of medium-sized firms. Just as the PS/AFP had represented left-wing identity by reference to social class andcatégories socio-professionnelles , the RPR's presentation of a socio-economic elite used the same frame of reference for portraying its own identity. The short broadcasts hosted by the national politicians used video imagery of high-technology (Ariane, an aerospace factory, the TGV) and youth to exemplify the dynamism and hope of the new government.

The RPR also used early afternoon broadcasts, but like the UDF, screened fewer longer programmes than did the PS/AFP. Afternoon spots gave the best visual impression of modern televisual communication, since of all longer broadcasts, those of the RPR alone made use of supercaptions, graphs, and statistics, with video and (mainly popular) music. The three final broadcasts of the campaign were 'masterpieces' of the genre, showing a trio of presenters contributing to a tripartite structure of firstly 'What we feel is important' secondly 'What we propose', and finally 'Us at work', accompanied by music, superimposed facts and figures or emotive video sequences.The imagery of these sequences linked in part to the themes developed by the presenters, but also communicated a vision of France generative of a positive consensus. Thus the montages of the broadcast on agriculture and rural society used alternate images of farming and city environments to emphasise the geographical and social 'indivisibility' of France, reinforcing this with contrasting images of the ultra-modern urban business centre of La Défense  and traditional wine production techniques. The most 'dynamic' imagery of this broadcast was again that of the long-distance TGV, linking far-flung rural areas and provincial regions to Paris, and the broadcast on employment similarly invoked technology (aerospace factory, technicians, scientists) and education (young people in and out of class and university) in a suggestion of France's future.

UDF Party Election Clips 1993

The broadcast style of the UDF changed the least from previous French political clips and from the complaint that TV broadcasts had been old-fashioned. The UDF chose a simple two-element format consisting of a generic video presentation of the UDF logo introducing each clip, followed by an office- or window-backgrounded 'talking head'. This seemed a throwback to more primitive days, and the 10-second introductory video sequence of giant letters 'U', 'D' and 'F' flying over France to cast their shadows on snowy mountains, green fields, bustling high-rise cities and rugged coastline had a distinctly passé look to it, as well as presenting the simplest of cultural and political imagery. Table 4. below lists these simplest of the major parties' spots.    

Table 4. UDF Short Spots Screened Mid-Evening (Législatives 1993)

 

Theme

Presenters

Duration

1

France’s problems

V. Giscard d’Estaing

60 secs

2

Positive choice for change

A. Madelin

60 secs

3

Putting France back to work

D. Baudis

60 secs

4

No ! to mistakes of socialist policy

J. Barrot

60 secs

5

France’s crisis of morals

J.-F. Deniau

60 secs

6

Youth, education, training

Ch. Millon

60 secs

7

Agriculture, rural communities

L. Poniatowski

60 secs

8

Promises for action (repeated)

P. Méhaignerie

60 secs

9

Corrupt politics (repeated)

F. Bayrou

60 secs

10

Attitude of new government

L. Poniatowski

90 secs

UDF broadcasts contained no generic slogan and made restricted use of music, (used only in the introductory U - D - F  images). UDF presenters were generally national politicians, ranging from former President Giscard d'Estaing, whose patrician launch of the broadcasts with the rhetorical 'France is experiencing grave difficulties - can we do anything to change this?' set the somewhat stuffy tone. The UDF broadcasts eschewed a thematic approach, playing a small range of simple exhortatory subjects. The UDF's longer broadcasts also disappointed in apparent neglect of modern techniques, since their format adopted the introductory sequence followed by the traditional 'stooge' questioner of much previous French political TV, who prompted politicians into dissertations on particular themes, interspersed with infrequent vox pops.

Other Parties: Costs or principles?

The broadcasts of the smaller parties showed that new techniques were not generalised. Four parties are representative of the features of these broadcasts: the Communist party (PC); the far-Right Front national  (FN); the extreme-Left Lutte ouvrière  (LO) and Les Verts , ('Greens').

Lutte ouvrière focused exclusively on party leader Arlette Laguiller, famous for televised outbursts against capitalism. In content, the 1993 electoral programmes did not innovate, and in format, the full-screen head and shoulders shots of Laguiller's uninterrupted diatribes were similarly familiar. The PC broadcasts showed little more modernisation. Longer broadcasts combined music and statistics or ambulating conversations with party figures, but old-style office presenters in discussion with young activists prevailed, the final broadcast showing septuagenarian party leader Marchais, (appropriately backgrounded by curtains) addressing the camera directly. Where video sequences were used they were straightforward illustrations of soundtrack. Attempted modernity flawed by traditional style and format was the persisting image of the PC produced by its broadcasts.

The Front national  centred broadcasts on leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. This risked interviewers or deskoffice backgrounds, but by placing Le Pen in contexts addressing the viewing nation as though from an election meeting platform, or simply speaking to viewers directly from his desk intercut with short vox pops, Le Pen's verve ensured an impression was made. Making more effort to modernise, the two leaders of Les VertsGénération écologie Antoine Waechter (Verts) and Brice Lalonde (GE), gave informal broadcasts talking to camera about ecology, and groupsof other candidates discussed policies and values in obviously scripted exchanges. Each broadcast concluded with a child's voice (against a soundtrack of children playing or shots of crashing surf) stating that 'Ecologists are needed in the National Assembly'.

The smaller parties' broadcasts used new techniques less widely. It is possible that some parties on the margins of French politics were too poor, or disinclined to adopt a modern, professional, expensive style - such a style might have seemed inappropriate for the Verts , and Lutte ouvrière , and to a lesser extent for the PC and the Front national . In 1993, all parties were still experimenting with techniques and imagery in an attempt to create electoral broadcasts blending traditional political debate with an attractive visual format liable both to attract viewers to the Official campaign and to persuade voters through its picturing of France.

The 1995 Presidential Elections

The Presidential elections of 1995 marked the transition from the 'Mitterrand period', which had lasted (with interludes of 'cohabitation between the Socialist President and Right-wing governments in 1986-88 and 1993-95) since the Socialist presidential and parliamentary successes of 1981. In bipolar French politics, the campaign pitted the Socialist candidate Jospin against the centre-Right Edouard Balladur (UDF and outgoing Prime minister) and the Right-wing Jacques Chirac (RPR, mayor of Paris and former Prime minister 1974-76). Given the two-round system of voting, other candidates also stood in the first stage of campaigning, but, like Balladur, were eliminated to leave the second round as a contest between Jospin and Chirac. Unlike the campaign of 1988 analysed by Kaid et al., (1991) and Holtz-Bacha et al. (1994), the strategies of candidates were not complicated by issues of incumbency, since all were challengers for the succession to President Mitterrand.

1965-1995: Coming of age for the Video-clip?

These elections were the first for the Presidency to use the video-clip technologies developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s starting with Mitterrand's path-breaking image sequence of 1988 and making their first tentative impact in the Legislative elections of 1993. Studies of the 1988 Presidential elections have revealed that broadcasts used logical issue-based appeals, set in formal contexts with candidates alone (usually as dominant speakers) or in combination with other participants.(Holtz-Bacha et al., 1994). In moving slightly away from these patterns, 1995 thus represents a further stage in the use of new methods of TV political communication in France, and the approach to imagery of the two main candidates revealed an interesting difference in strategy between Left and Right.

Rather than using 'proportionality' to allocate air-time to candidates as in theLégislatives , the Official campaign for Presidential elections ensures strict equality of (free) access to TV and radio for all candidates, as Table 5. below indicates.    

Table 5. Total broadcast time authorised by CSA (Présidentielle 1995)

Candidate

Round 1

Round 2

Total

Edouard Balladur (UDF)

90’ (89’)

-

 

Jacques Chirac (RPR)

90’ (89’)

120’ (79’)

210’ (178’)

Lionel Jospin(PS)

90’ (89’)

120’ (79’)

210’ (178’)

‘Minor candidates’

90’ (89’)

-

 

(Time actually used by the candidates is shown in brackets)

As well as free access to production facilities of the Société française de production for making their broadcasts, in 1995 candidates also benefited from CSA rulings of 1993 allowing inclusion in SFP-produced broadcasts of video sequences of the candidates own creation and funding. Allowed only within limits set by the CSA concerning the time devoted to such sequences in any broadcast, this use of what were invariably descried as American advertising techniques rejuvenated discussions over the level and standards of French political debate. One particular problem of 'in-house' material was clearly that parties capable of spending more on their Official campaign broadcasts would exploit the 'equality' of air-time. Almost all the candidates used some form of video sequences and imagery, calling on the services of well-known film, media and advertising specialists, but in different ways. The following analysis of these video sequences will show how the interpretation of imagery, as well as the interpretation of dominant coding (which misses features of pre-produced clips) can shed light on strategies of TV political broadcasting.

The Left: Jospin between tradition and modernity

In the first round of the campaign Jospin's broadcasts seemed bizarrely old- fashioned, concentrating exclusively on a round-table discussion format in which the candidate debated issues with a selection of interlocutors, who took turns to ask questions devised to elicit comprehensive coverage of Jospin's proposals. The choice of such a format, in which traditional question-and-answer debate between a fluent and persuasive candidate and ('stooge') representatives of the voting public reflected a continued understanding of political communication as voter-persuasion by rhetoric and reasoned argument. However cogent and sympathetic the candidate, however tasteful the studio setting for the discussion, and however photogenic the almost exclusively youthful questioners, this format appeared slow and archaic in comparison with the more dynamic approaches of other broadcasts. The opening sequence of video footage which introduced each debate (showing Jospin struggling through the ecstatic party faithful at a Socialist rally) did little to mitigate the negative effects of what followed, being narrow in appeal and indicative of a partial ('the party faithful') and exclusive approach to political communication. Moreover, concentrating on imagery of an outdated form of electioneering such as the 'grand meeting politique'  further exemplified the old-fashioned character of the Socialist approach to their broadcasts. In reflection of 1988, this strategy was centred on a logical appeal to reason.

The second round of the campaign brought changes in the visual and rhetorical strategies employed in Jospin's broadcasts, perhaps in recognition of the overly sober approach of the previous and also as a result of the subtly different nature of the persuasion needed in the final presidential run-off. The previous footage of Jospin in his party-political context was replaced by an (attractive) introductory video sequence mixing imagery of countryside, candidate and political values culminating in the Socialist candidate's second round slogan. The round-table gave way to the more focused but equally traditional interviewer-candidate format, followed by endorsements direct-to-camera by fellow politicians and celebrities from the arts and sports separated and concluded by excerpts from the original image sequence. The final element of the broadcast is Jospin's own direct appeal to the viewers, closed by his slogan foregrounding the countryside image of the video sequence.

Perhaps in recognition of the need for something more than mere logos , these second-round Socialist broadcasts added ethical and emotional appeals to Jospin's clarity of exposition and argument. The image sequence shows fifteen shots in thirty seconds using dissolve techniques to merge images one into another. To show the content and intent of this sequence we list its soft-focus components in their entirety in Table 6. below:      

Table 6. Introductory video sequence (Jospin, Second Round, Présidentielle 1995)

Shot

Image

Script

1

aerial extreme long shot of river, trees, fields, mountains and sky

 

2

close up of hands planting seeds in soil

 

3

close up of two hands joined

‘Paix’

4

close up of doctor’s hands, stethoscope, patient’s abdomen

 

5

extreme long shot of geese flying in the sky

 

6

close-up of child’s hand writing ‘liberté’ and ‘égalité’ in an exercise book

 

7

close up of child’s drawing of a house

 

8

close up of teacher’s hand writing ‘Egalité’ on a blackboard

 

9

medium close shot of Jospin writing with a fountain-pen

 

10

extreme side close up of Jospin’s face

 

11

medium close shot of smiling child

 

12

medium close shot of group of old people greeting Jospin

Sécurité’

13

medium close shot back view of Jospin saluting crowd at party meeting

 

14

medium close shot of Jospin seen from crowd

 

15

aerial extreme long shot of river, trees, fields, mountain and sky

‘Le Président pour un Vrai Changement’

Accompanied by classical/baroque style music, this sequence of images alternates quick-fire social and political symbols sandwiched between the slower opening and closing shots of an idealised French countryside.

The organising principle of the shot selection in this sequence is surely that of French identity; the image sequences almost exclusively iterated familiar 'natural' visual symbols of identity, community and compassion, reinforced by abstract concepts such as 'Paix' , 'Liberté' , 'Egalité' and 'Sécurité' . It is important however to distinguish here between two different but overlapping interpretations of French identity, tension between which has generated many divisions in French politics and society. The interpretation most typical of the Left has traditionally been one in which the Nation is the Republic, typified by Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and where the rights of individuals are guaranteed within the frame of the common good; this is the understanding of identity to which Jospin's imagery is appealing.More characteristic of the Right however has been a stress on individualism and nationalism, in which the Nation rather than the Republic provides the framework for individual lives. The republican form of government is no longer an issue in French politics, and both Left and Right can invoke its imagery in party campaigning, even though picking and mixing amongst the available symbols. The parties of the Left have a natural attachment to the original republican slogans of 'Liberté' , 'Egalité'  and'Fraternité' , shared to a greater or lesser extent by the parties of the Centre and the Right, who tend to stress the value of 'Liberté'  more than those of equality and fraternity. All parties lay claim to the tricolour symbolism of blue, white and red, although as an emblem perhaps more of nationalism than of republicanism, it tends to be the Right who use this more than the Left.

The Right: Chirac's multimedia symbols

In contrast with the traditional approach of Jospin and the Socialist party and with their two-stage strategy for broadcasts in the first and second rounds of voting, Chirac and the RPR chose broadcast formats which appeared 'modern' and 'dynamic' and maintained a basic visual continuity of imagery throughout the campaign.

Although Chirac's broadcasts retained some traditional elements such as endorsements by talking-head fellow politicians (elicited by usually visible and named - or hidden - interviewers), and (in the second round) discussions with a small group of RPR and UDF deputies, they arguably made their strongest impression through the use of 'multimedia' techniques in the presentation of quotations from the candidate's campaign book. To the background of catchy (and 'contemporary') theme music, these rapid sequences of neatly packaged text, images and video footage separated the more sober (but still brief) testimonies of senior national politicians with a barrage of persuasive visual symbols and graphically-presented soundbites.11 Chirac himself was present in all of these broadcasts, but not in the traditional sense of candidate-interviewer-camera or candidate-round-table discussion, since in the first round he was presented as an inset 'talking-head' framed by quotation marks against a background of text, quoting extracts from his campaign manifesto. It could be argued that this represents a 'post-modern' use of the truth and authority of the written word, spoken by the candidate in a visual presentation backed by music. The visual imagery of this approach seems to escape conventional categorisation, since unlike the traditional naturalistic symbolism of Jospin's broadcasts, the 'multimedia' format uses 'graphic icons' interspersed with'real' images of the candidate and of voter-citizens. The most obvious of these 'graphic icons' was the campaign symbol adopted by Chirac, which was a naive/primitive representation of a brown-boughed, green-canopied tree bearing circular red fruits appearing against a white background reminiscent of a blank computer screen.

To see how this approach worked in context, let us consider the following sequence of 'imagery', typical of the multimedia sections introducing broadcasts or separating talking-head testimonies and discussion sessions. In this particular sequence (30 seconds), twenty shots merge in a mixture of icons, video, text, still photos and 'flash-card' slogans, with the blue (-ish), white and red colours of the French flag heavily represented:  

Table 7. ‘Multimedia’ sequence (Chirac, First and Second Rounds, Présidentielle 1995)

Shot

Image

1

tree symbol against white background

2

close up of hands holding book

3

3 small blue-tinted pictures of women superimposed over three red dots against a white background

4

large print ‘Rassembler’ (white against black)

5

text (black on white), enclosed picture (blue-ish), larger font quotation (red)

6

close up of campaign book tapping on reader’s knee

7

text (black on white) plus quotation (red);

8

large print ‘Vouloir’ (white against black)

9

3 small pictures of women (blue-ish) superimposed over three red dots against a white background

10

medium long shot of woman walking with campaign book

11

text (black/white), picture (blue-ish), large font quotation (red)

12

three large red question marks

13

text (black on white), picture (blue-ish), larger font quotation (red)

14

medium close shot of woman reading campaign book in café

15

large print ‘Guider’ (white against black)

16

quotation (red) and picture (blue-ish) against white background

17

close up of hands holding campaign leaflet

18

full-screen collage of faces

19

three pictures of Chirac (blue-ish) superimposed on white screen

20

fade to studio discussion

The organising principle of these sequences is manifestly different from that of Jospin's broadcasts. Whereas Jospin's strategy had seemingly been to emphasise a community of values centred around Republican principles and an idealised image ofFrance as countryside, the multimedia salvoes of Chirac's broadcasts struck home their message as much through the medium as through content. Thus Jospin's natural image of countryside was countered by the symbol of the fruit-bearing tree and the rurality of an idealised French landscape was replaced by urban scenes of pamphlet-reading voters and by the blue-white-and-red evocation of symbolic nationhood. Thus the soft-focus abstract nouns of the Jospin image sequences were replaced by stark active verbs summarising Chirac's project for France, and the implicit appeal to common values of the Left and of wider French community were countered by heavy emphasis on Chirac's own proposals for government. In distinction to Jospin's imagery, which merely evoked notions of 'belonging', the Chirac broadcasts focused viewers' attention on the personal dynamism of the candidate and on the thrust of his campaign. The extent to which the impression of this imagery was important rather than its fuller propositional content was revealed by the speed with which the extracts of text from Chirac's book were fleetingly displayed, only the crucial bites of prose highlighted in bold red script leaving more than a near subliminal mark.

The fact that Chirac was the only candidate whose campaign invented a symbol implies that his strategy was the most visually aware of the major parties, even if a certain amount of confusion arose over the precise meaning of the fruit-bearing tree.

Other Candidates in 1995: Old and New, Urban and Rural

Only the two best-placed candidates in the first round of voting proceeded into the second round of campaigning and a second round strategy of candidate broadcasts. The other candidates' television campaigns were thus brief, and with the exception of that of Balladur who initially had a chance of going through to the second round, doomed to failure from the start. As in the 1993 Legislative elections, the broadcasts of candidates of established parties such as the Communists (PC), the Front National  (FN), Les Verts , Lutte Ouvrière  and those of the 'independent' candidates Jacques Cheminade and Philippe de Villiers illustrated both how unevenly new techniques of communication had been espoused, and how parties of different ideologies were to use imagery.

Most of the first-round candidates exploited new techniques very little. Arlette Laguiller maintained her practice of uninterrupted high-speed diatribes against capitalism delivered directly and unswervingly to camera, eschewing music, video- sequences and imagery of any kind (although she did, reportedly, use make-up forthe first time). Robert Hue, the candidate of the Communist party, figured in a series of traditionally styled broadcasts combining elements of supercaption, music and video sequences in lack-lustre fashion, and over-relying on false-interview discussion contexts. Representing the Front National , Jean-Marie Le Pen used broadcasts which combined his populist rhetorical skills with simple video imagery such as an introductory blue white and red logo of the FN against a white-clouded blue sky and a 'traditional' closing sequence of sky, clouds, mountains, snow, coast and sea, fields, dogs, sport and flowers accompanied by music and a voice-over of 'Français d'abord, Français toujours, Français passionnément' . Balladur's broadcasts, like those of the UDF in the 1993 Legislative elections seemed loath to grasp the nettle of new techniques, limiting their use of video to (middle-class) vox pop questions answered by Balladur in direct-to-camera address mode, and to an introductory sequence representing the candidate in the press of an old-style political rally.12

The two minor candidates whose broadcasts made most use of new video techniques and imagery were the ecologist Dominique Voynet, and the independent Right-winger Philippe de Villiers. In their different approaches to the video-clip, these broadcasts reveal much about the imagery of televisual political communication in France. As a committed traditionalist Catholic, proud of his roots in the agricultural Vendée region of France, de Villiers values marriage and the family, hierarchy, the Church, the customs of rural life, self-help, patriotism and moral rectitude, and in his addresses to camera these were the themes implicitly stressed in discussions of drugs, delinquency and insecurity. Each of the broadcasts opened with a 30-second video image-sequence of 33 shots, cross-cutting and dissolving between a leitmotif of sunlight through green leaves (4 shots), de Villiers himself in a forest setting (4 shots), traditional and modern work (10 shots), traditional and modern pastimes (7 shots), youth, adulthood, old age and the family (6 shots). Closer analysis of the shot selection reveals the predominantly rural and traditionalist emphasis of the sequence, since shots of fishing, farming and artisan work outnumber computerised office imagery seven to three, and forest cycling and hunting outnumber basketball five to two. Accompanied by empathetic music, this was arguably the most visually appealing of all modern video sequences in the 1995 elections. The mix of new and old continued with the opening greeting of de Villiers' talk, which in employing the Gaullian 'Françaises, Français'  inscribed its language firmly within traditional Right- wing discourse.

Voynet's broadcasts rejected the 'address to the Nation' style chosen by de Villiers in favour of less direct but equally old-fashioned round-table discussion format, punctuated by occasional excerpts from the broadcasts' standard introductory imagesequence. In 20 seconds, this video sequence presented 27 shots of a contemporary urban context, cleverly mixing reference to ecological issues, social problems and political values through intercutting from a little girl playing on a pavement hopscotch diagram of 'Solidarité', 'Démocratie', 'Fraternité', 'Parité' and 'Ecologie'  and brightly- coloured photo images connoting these values. Thus in contrast to the hunting and farming of de Villiers, Voynet shows homeless people and nurses, a couple with Aids ribbons kissing and black children instead of a nuclear family cycling in a wood, and traffic jams and polluting factories rather than leaves and sunlight. More precisely, the shots cover the little girl, the hopscotch grid and its vocabulary of political and social values (12 shots), images of work (6 shots), images of the polluted environment (5 shots) and reminders of social issues (4 shots).

Conclusion: Towards new imagery of old France ?

CSA analysis of audience figures for the 1995 Official campaign showed that it had attracted more viewers than ever before, justifying innovations adopted in 1993 and confounding criticisms that the time-slots chosen for the broadcasts were intended to minimise loss of prime-time TV commercial advertising revenue for the public sector channels (CSA, 1995, pp. 4-5; Chemin, 1995). This success echoes some analysts' positive assessment of the ability of French candidates to resolve problems of positioning and differentiation of broadcast style even within tight political broadcasting regulations (Holtz-Bacha et al., 1994, p. 79).

Despite the blandness and predictability of much of the TV offered to French voters, it succeeded at least in holding attention more than previous campaigns, representing successful modernisation in the thirty-year history of French TV political communication. As has been suggested above, some candidates in 1995 (principally Chirac, Villiers and Voynet) used the experiments of the 1993 Legislative elections to adopt more developed styles of political spot in tune with generalised multi-media techniques, whilst others, (such as Balladur, Le Pen and Hue) made little or unsophisticated use of modern techniques. The Socialists arguably miscalculated their strategy in focusing overly on Jospin in staged discussions, and where imagery was provided, by adopting the simplest and most traditional emblems of community and France. Compared with the excitement of Mitterrand's innovatory clip in 1988, Jospin's broadcasts were dull indeed.

Studies of the 1988 French presidential elections suggested that compared with the US, 'culture' might be more important in election campaigns in France (Kaid et al.,1991). France and the US do indeed differ crucially, not so much in the degree of multicultural-ness of their respective societies (it can be argued that France has significant ethnic and cultural sub-communities), but in the driving ethos of their approach towards cultural and national identity. Much of what Griffin and Kagan (1996) and others refer to as 'culture' or 'cultural imagery' is important in the French context, but it seems that the 'picturing' employed in French campaign spots may be more broadly 'political' than cultural, since parties and candidates appeal competitively to the traditions and values of republican society and to idealised geographical communities of indivisible rural and urban France, rather than to a culture defined by race, ethnicity and multiculturalism. The unity of French society is theoretically guaranteed by republican integration and assimilation, in direct opposition to a nation composed of differing identities.

The 'picturing of France' seems on the basis of the imagery of 1993 and 1995 to revolve around three principal themes. The first of these is that of the republican ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, interpreted in different mixes and with contemporary nuances such as the minor reference to liberty and the stress on 'solidarity' as the current avatar of fraternity. The second theme is that of France as a rural (agricultural) and/or urban (industrial) nation, in which a constant tension exists between French nostalgia for a rural past of traditional social and economic structures and France's current status as the world's fourth industrial power. The third theme brings together the others in a nexus of imagery centred on the gulf between 'have's' and 'have-not's' in an economy plagued by high unemployment. The campaign issues of 1993 and 1995 were dominated by the economy and by the existence of a 'social fracture' creating a divided France, and the video-sequences of candidates and parties echoed these concerns in different ways.

In 1993 the Socialists concentrated firstly on imagery reflecting republican values most closely associated with the Left, creating a visual home for supporters of the idea of 'progress'. In 1995, Jospin added to this some evocation of France as a nation in a socio-geographic-historical sense, with discussions focused on values supported by imagery of both values and component features of a stereotypical France of countryside and urban development . Also focusing on values in 1995 were the Verts , but their imagery significantly omitted reference to the rural world, eschewing the creation of a shared image of France in favour of their message of the evils of urban industrial life. On the Right, the beautifully produced video-montages of Villiers presented a similarly lop-sided view of France as rural idyll. The RPR and Chirac however realised in both 1993 and 1995 that new techniques and imagery needed to present campaign messages as well as to build identity, and thuscombined political spot techniques of video, music and graphics whose form suggested community in the use of tones of blue, white and red, and the depiction of 'representative individuals', but whose content additionally conveyed the intent 'to change', 'to guide' or 'to rally'. As a neo-Gaullist party, the RPR spent little effort reminding voters of its view of France as a nation, concentrating on policy and on the evocation less of traditional values of republicanism as those of dynamism and political will - of its candidates and of France.13 It seems true that French TV political spots use techniques which ally the evocation (if not full discussion) of issues with imagery, and which construct a political reality of compromise and unity within a context of centre-Left and centre-Right competition for traditional values.

Although strikingly more 'visual' than previous French political broadcasts, those of the 1995 elections yet maintained a link with older technologies of communication and symbolic exchange through the linkage between the TV campaigns and the candidates' election books published in the run-up to the campaign. The most striking example of this cross-over between what some French analysts of media and communication call the mediological 'graphosphere' and 'videosphere' was given by the textual extracts from Chirac's La France pour tous which figured so prominently in his broadcasts, but the TV strategies of both Jospin and Balladur closely followed their campaign publications (Debray, 1991). The Presidential campaign of 2002 will reveal more about the development of French political communication and interpretations of cultural identity, as the marketing of politics becomes increasingly sophisticated, as the issue of campaign finance becomes increasingly the subject of scrutiny, and as French society becomes more multicultural. In a technical environment of multi-media, an economic framework of privatisation and deregulation and a social and political context of post-modern multiculturalism, the old imagery of republican values and of the rural-urban divide may be replaced by evocation of newer, and yet again 'more American' concerns.

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Notes

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., 1991.
2 Rémond suggested that new media techniques should respect traditions and culture of French politics, respecting voters' 'historical and cultural knowledge' (Benoît et al., 1986, 13.).
3 This clip was much discussed both because it contravened CNCL rules and also because it was the most noticeable example of the use of modern techniques.
4 Extra time is allotted by the CSA to small parties and movements not represented in the National Assembly but fielding a minimum of 75 candidates.
5 Sixteen parties and political formations participated in the Official campaign. The following analysis concerns the broadcasts of the three main parties (PS, RPR and UDF), and also considers the campaigns of four of the minor parties. Fragmentation of parties in the French multiparty system and consequent institutional pressures to build electoral alliances spawn short-lived umbrella organisations such as the Alliance des Francais pour le Progrès (AFP)
6 Socialist acceptance of the need for verbally attractive broadcasts was evident in the use of effective introductory or closing soundbites, such as Bérégovoy's solemn 'We live in a difficult world where competition is hard - we must better organise the world'.(AFP)
7 The full cast covered health services: a general practitioner and a local dentist; industry: a print machine worker, a garage mechanic, a skilled carpenter, a small-business owner, a small farmer, a postman, the director of an agricultural cooperative, an office worker; education and youth: young students, researchers and lecturers, teachers and a black youth leader, as well as retired people and a nursing mother.(AFP)
8 The slogan 'Reform Now !''La réforme maintenant'  echoed both Chirac's Presidential campaign slogan of 1981 - 'Maintenant il nous faut un homme nouveau'  ('Now We Need a New Man') - and future Prime minister Balladur's book, Le dictionnaire de la réforme  (The Dictionary of Reform), (Balladur, 1993).
9 RPR broadcasts best used music to accompany video imagery and closing sequences, reinforcing visual communication by the musical elements of the main sections, and using closing Baroque-inspired music to suggest classical elegance and traditional values as a background to demands for change.
10 This tactic reinforced an underlying theme of the RPR TV campaign, that professional people should get involved in politics. 'Les professionnels doivent s'investir en politique'.
11 For a brief description of the different musical choices made by the candidates, see Marmande, François. (1995). 'De l'usage de la musique de jazz dans la campagne électorale'. Le Monde , 15 April, 27.
12 Interestingly, it would seem that the choice of portraying Balladur in grass-roots action was an attempt to strengthen weak points in his profile, since as PM he had been often criticised for being too aloof and elitist.
13 'Volonté'  or 'Will' is a characteristic Gaullist value.

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