Jean Mouchon, La politique sous l'influence des médias (L'Harmattan, Collection Communication et Civilisation, 1998), pp. 136, ISBN 2-7384-7053-1.
L'Harmattan's interesting and valuable Communication et Civilisation collection was launched in September 1996 and already includes more than a dozen titles dealing with a wide variety of themes concerning French media (Sophie Bachmann - L'éclatement de l'ORTF; Pascal Lefèbvre - Havas et l'audiovisuel), media issues in countries other than France (Anne Nivat - Quand les médias russes ont pris la parole), and more general theoretical problems (Anne Mayère - La société informationnelle, Gilles Brunel - Le tiers communicationnel). One of the aims of the Collection is to publish the work ofyoung researchers in these fields, but La politique sous l'influence des médias is actually a collection of articles published over a number of years (1989-1996) by an established expert. Jean Mouchon is professeur at Paris X Nanterre and director of the Centre de recherches sur l'information spécialisée et la médiation des savoirs (CRIS). In this compendium of analyses, he addresses the central problems of visual images and political discourse as politics and politicians transform themselves and their communications strategies in a context of constantly evolving technologies. For Mouchon, the constantly varying communications strategies adopted by politicians illustrate their (unsuccessful) attempts to break free from what he describes a 'la parole impositive' and 'la non-écoute'. The usefulness of studying political communication and 'la politique sous l'influence des médias' is that scientific analysis can help politics create new and better forms of political discourse.
The book is divided into two sections covering respectively Information et politique and Communication et politique, each section reproduces three articles and includes a brief introductory summary of the issues at stake. In his first introductory chapter ('Positionnement') Mouchon castigates the 'naiveté nombrilique' of journalists, media commentators and some politicians who through their proximity to the subject see too readily and too easily new trends in political communication - identifying, for example Michel Noir and Bernard Tapie as embodying a new style of discourse. Avoiding such shortsightedness requires the analysts to distance themselves from the hurly burly of TV programmes and to try to establish an understanding of the overall evolution of énonciation politique. In this 'positionnement' Mouchon provides a useful summary of French approaches to the mediatisation of politics since the 1980s through a brief literature review of the usual suspects (Bourdieu, Champagne, Neveu, de Virieu, Wolton, Gerstlé, Breton etc.), adding to this synthesis his own conviction that consideration of 'la dimension politique' is imperative for a proper understanding of how today's mediatised society is affecting political discourse. For Mouchon, the general public is increasingly well-informed and aware of the mechanisms and pitfalls of mediatised politics, and politics therefore needs to integrate these expectations into creating improved strategies of democratic communication: 'La télévision-citoyenne ne devrait-elle pas préparer le téléspectateur à "sa" rencontre avec l'homme politique ?'.
All in all, this is a useful collection of studies providing an interesting summary of a variety of current issues in French approaches to political communication.
Hugh Dauncey (University of Newcastle upon Tyne)