Friday, May 29, 2009

The blind is leading the blind

A couple of days ago I wrote a post in French about a well-known France 2 political TV show. At first I didn’t think about translating that post because I believed only the French would find it interesting anyway. But then I thought that it might be interesting for other nationals to see what’s happening in the countries they don’t know the language of. So here you go, welcome to the world of French TV debates!

The other day I was watching the well-known French political TV show Mots croisés, broadcast by number one public channel France 2. The show is in two parts, each dedicated to one topic. Unsurprisingly, the debate on the European elections was number 2, starting at 11pm, when most French people go to bed. Needless to say, you had to be highly motivated to follow that debate at such a late hour.

I was happy to see that Jean Quatremer -the Brussels correspondent of the French daily newspaper Libération- was invited. When questioned on his first impressions of the campaign so far, he pointed out that European elections suffered from a real deficit of media coverage, and the fact that the Mots Croisés debate started at 11pm was a good example of it. He didn’t get the chance to finish making his point as the host, Yves Calvi, flushed with anger, interrupting him to say that he had a lot of nerve saying such thing in his show, which was allocating 45 whole minutes to the debate on the European elections. Sic. A first debate on the European elections just two weeks before the vote at 11 pm on a week day. And knowing that the campaign on the presidential election starts over a year before the vote. Obviously, there is still a lot of progress to be made.

Yves Calvi added that France 2 has a very European-minded editorial team, which regularly broadcasts reports on European themes, and that France 2 is in fact the only French channel to have a permanent office in Brussels. Fair enough. However, considering that reports on European topics are not broadcast before the 19th minute of the 8-o’clock news, even in official campaign time -as I pointed out in a previous post- one can’t help but think that, despite Yves Calvi’s vindications, we still have a big problem, don’t we?

Jean Quatremer remained calm and polite. He managed to add that reports on European matters still only accounted for 2% of all news in the French media. So France 2’s editorial team might be the most European-minded of all, I still don’t think one should boast about something that is far from being satisfactory.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why I am (openly) a socialist

I have put a lot of thought into finding a pen name. Like many people, I chose to open a blog because I wanted to share some ideas – because I like writing too, obviously, otherwise you don’t do it. I also wanted to share what it is like to be an activist of the French Parti Socialiste and of the Party of European Socialists, showing another side of politics -and of the socialists-, and providing a different image than the distorted one you can see in the media.

So what pen name would be the most relevant? I thought about using a politically neutral pen name, like many do. I thought that perhaps hiding my true colours might give more impact to my ideas. It is unfortunate but I noticed that stating clearly my political leaning could scare people off, immediately discrediting whatever I might say. In the Brussels Euro-environment I live, very few people openly take sides on a party. Yet they all work more or less directly in European politics. Expect that here in Brussels we call it “European affairs” as if trying to make it sound less political. It is true that most lobbies – industries and NGOs alike – mainly intend to influence the civil servants at the European Commission, those must be “neutral” so to speak. I don’t believe in neutrality. One can try their best to be unbiased, of course. It’s actually a matter of work ethics for civil servants. But you can never be neutral. We all have certain values, and not all of us share the same ones.

Then why do some people get scared away by the sole fact of stating clearly what you stand for ? I can’t help but wonder. I think there is some kind of thinking that is quite common nowadays, and that says : political affiliation means dogmatism and indoctrination. I used to think that way too, I admit it.  Although I have always felt quite passionate about politics, I committed to a political party rather belatedly. I was afraid of losing my freedom of thought, I guess. When I started my life as a political activist, I was very happy to realize these preconceived ideas were wrong. A political party – mine at least – is a place of exchange and debate. We don’t always agree on which way to go, that’s a fact. But what we agree on are fundamental values that drive our actions. A party is a political family. Family members don’t always agree with one another. On the contrary, families often have arguments, and that’s quite healthy actually. Yet families know what unites them. What unites a family is a set of values. And these values are not the same in every family. Mine are left-wing values.

Since I don't believe in neutrality, since I believe politics needs to be redeemed, and since I am above all an honest person, I have chosen to be unequivocal in my pen name. I am a europhile and a socialist. I am a eurosocialist. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It is time...

13 days to go before the European elections.

Not quite used to it, I am watching the 8 o’clock news on France2.

News go by. The headlines: hailstones the size of tennis balls, shady insurance companies, children put in custody, sects – oh yes, that’s catchy, sects are scary – it even talks about Sarkozy’s facebook page, and Carla having a cup of tea with her lady friends and petting her brand new dog… that doesn’t feel right. I am waiting, listening carefully; I feel feverish. I am losing hope. Well, I guess it’s not for today.

But suddenly, there it comes!

On the 19th minute of the big TV monument that is the 8 o’clock news of the state-subsidised, pedagogy-oriented public TV channel, just two weeks before the vote: a report on the European elections! What a miracle. I was not even expecting it any more. Finally! So, there is still hope. Let’s see what it’s about. My ears and eyes are wide open.

Topic: “European elections: list registration closed”. Lists are presented one after the other. “The UMP is heading the polls for the time being. Its most media-friendly candidates, two ministers, Micher Barnier and Rachida Dati, candidates in the Ile-de-France region. Lagging behind, the PS is struggling to find its feet, weakened by internal disputes. Among its heads of list: Harlem Désir in the Ile-de-France region, Vincent Peillon parachuted in the South-East, and Henri Weber in the Centre”.

Hit pause: did you notice the use of positive terms for the UMP, and negative terms as for the PS? You didn’t? Well I did, and that’s the wake-up call that led me to start this blog. Read again:

UMP + heading + most media-friendly + two ministers

PS + lagging behind + struggling + weakened + disputes + parachuted

Let alone the fact that two candidates are mentioned for the UMP, a man and a woman, while only men are mentioned for the PS, even though it is championing gender equality. Do you see how unbalanced things are now? You might think I am being paranoid. Well I am not, this is but one example among many others – too many – of something that has become systematic. You heard me: SYS-TE-MA-TIC.

We are living in a world where the right-wingers have won the media and mind-domination war. It is time for the European progressives to face that fact, get on with it and fight back. We must restore some kind of balance in the media. It is time for us to take the floor back, and get heard.

Back to the France2 news report. The other lists are presented, 5 seconds each. “72 deputies to elect, spread amongst 8 regions. An artificial land division combined with heads of list that are uneasy to identify: here are two factors that probably explain somehow the lack of interests of voters in these elections. As a matter of fact, one of the key aspects in this vote, if not the most relevant, will be the low turnout rate.”

Report time: 2 minutes.

“Here are two factors that probably explain somehow the lack of interests of voters in these elections”.  I am flabbergasted. What about the fact that less than two weeks before the vote, a TV report about the European elections only comes at the 19th minute of the evening news? Doesn’t it have anything to do with the matter? Who are they fooling? “As a matter of fact, one of the key aspects in this vote, if not the most relevant, will be the low turnout rate.” How can one state such a thing before the elections actually take place? Doesn’t France2, as a public TV channel, have a “key” role to play in favour of a higher turnout rate? In fact, this is also systematic. SYS-TE-MA-TIC. The media analyse these elections through national frames of reference.  What is at stake is not national, so nothing is at stake. It is tiring. It is exhausting. It is depressing.

The Parti Socialiste and the Party of European Socialists, to which it is affiliated, have been fighting for months in order to politicise and europeanise these elections. Yet it does not show in the media. What is wrong, then? The French are not ready, people are not interested in Europe, Europe is too complicated: that would be the usual answer given. But it is nothing like that. Not this time at least. What is wrong is the UMP. The UMP and the European People’s Party, to which it is affiliated, are not campaigning. The truth is, it is of no interest for them to campaign as they are in power in most European governments. So they let time pass by, hoping no one will notice. As a consequence, the PS and the PES have no opponent to fight against. We want to debate. We organise meeting after meeting. Yet the media do not report on it. Why? It is simple. Because if they make a report on the PS, the media must make another one on the UMP, or at least give them a chance to react in order to be fair. But the UMP is not campaigning, and there is no available counterpart. Until the last minute the UMP had neither lists nor programme. No matter how outrageous that is, the media have hardly talked about it. This absolute scandal has been covered up by images of Carla in Chanel outfits.

The show must not go on.