The media formula to demonize the left and normalize the far right in France

The media formula to demonize the left and normalize the far right in France
The media formula to demonize the left and normalize the far right in France

Even Kylian Mbappé is more clear about it. The French national team star took a stand on Thursday regarding the uncertain legislative elections in France on Sunday. “More than ever, we need to go and vote. It is really urgent. We cannot leave the country in the hands of these people,” said the new Real Madrid striker at the press conference for his team’s pre-match at the European Championship. A few minutes later he clarified what he meant on June 16 when he asked to vote “against the extremes.” When a journalist told him that he was asking the question “from the left, the extreme left,” Mbappé replied jokingly: “luckily you are not on the other side.”

The left and the far right are not the same thing. Mbappé is clear about this, but this is not the case for a whole section of the media apparatus. The major media and their leading commentators have played a leading role in the ideological confusion that has marked this electoral campaign in France. This basically consists of a duel between Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) and the New Popular Front, a unitary alliance of all the progressive formations, from La France Insoumise to the Socialist Party, passing through the Greens and the Communists. These are two antagonistic options due to their ideology and history, but often equated through the cliché of the “extremes”.

The far right is the main beneficiary of this confusion. Its aspirations to obtain an absolute majority in the National Assembly – a scenario that the latest polls do not foresee, but nothing can be ruled out – cannot be understood without its normalisation. A significant moment in this process took place on 28 June, two days before the first round. Guests on the TMC channel’s Quotidien programme, one of the most watched in the afternoons, two of the best-known presenters explained their convoluted reasons for refusing to call Le Pen’s party “far right”.

“Studying the far right in Europe, I saw what Geert Wilders is proposing in the Netherlands, what the AfD is proposing in Germany… I saw what separates these parties from RN,” said David Pujadas, former presenter of the evening news programme on France 2, the main public channel. “I have no problem with that, but then we have to talk about the far right and the far left,” said Apolline de Malherbe, presenter of the morning show on RMC, one of the main private radio stations. For this reason, she said she preferred to refer to each party by its initials.

The media galaxy of the ultra-Catholic Bolloré

Unlike in Spain, where Vox’s normalisation occurred very quickly, in France it has been the result of a historic and progressive process for this far-right party, founded in 1972 by former members of the SS and sympathisers of French Algeria. “Until the 1980s it was considered a far-right and marginal party. But from then on the media began to look at it differently and treat it as a normal party. To the point that its media normalisation began before Marine Le Pen promoted this strategy in 2011,” journalist Sylvain Bourmeau, director of the digital newspaper, explains to Diario.Red. AOC.

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This process is now at a critical point. The far right of the Le Pen party is not only treated on the sets like any other party and its leaders are interviewed as if they were politicians like the rest, but it also has a whole media apparatus at its disposal. The ultra-Catholic businessman Vincent Bolloré has built up a galaxy of media outlets with a clearly neo-conservative editorial line over the last decade, with the radio station Europe 1, the daily newspaper Sunday Journal or the CNews channel, known as the French Fox.

Added to this are historic conservative media such as the almost bicentennial Le Figaro at the magazine Point who are increasingly looking more favourably on Le Pen. “The media did not invent the RN, but they did contribute to institutionalising it and changed the way many French people view the party,” says Bourmeau, who believes that “this is not only due to the fact that there are more and more media owners and journalists who sympathise” with her ultra-nationalist and xenophobic ideas.

In the French media landscape, 24-hour news channels have a great influence. There are up to four of them, three of them private. BFM TV, the leader in audience, has shifted its editorial line to the right as it is immersed in a competition with CNews. The model of this far-right channel, based on giving great importance to events and talk shows with an omnipresence of right-wing voices, has had repercussions on the rest of the channels. To the point that at the beginning of this campaign, the management of BFM TV asked its programmers to invite more commentators with sympathies to the radical right to “address all French people”, according to the digital newspaper. Mediapart.

“The harshest criticism has been directed at the left”

In addition to the growing presence of commentators close to the far right —or directly linked to it— there is also the presence of opinion makers mainstream. Many of them have paved the way for Le Pen’s possible victory by “reproducing the rhetoric of extremes used by the President of the Republic. This consists of putting the extreme right and the left on the same level,” explains journalist Yunnes Abzouz, from the digital newspaper Mediapart and specialized in media criticism.

“The harshest criticism has been directed at the left. The main concern of the commentators has been to prevent the Popular Front from coming to power,” he adds about the media coverage. This has been quite lenient with the extreme right. Despite having presented more than a hundred candidates (in a total of 577 constituencies) who made racist, anti-Semitic or conspiratorial statements in the past, the major media hardly echoed this until the last week of the campaign.

In the case of the Popular Front, however, not only has its programme been presented as impossible to implement, despite having the support of prestigious economists such as Thomas Piketty or Gabriel Zucman, but they have also demonised some of its main representatives, such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of La France Insoumise (related to Podemos or Sumar). “They have turned Mélenchon into the equivalent of Jean-Marine Le Pen 25 years ago,” explains Abzouz, mentioning the historic leader of Le Penism, convicted up to six times for anti-Semitism. According to this journalist, “without evidence or facts, Mélenchon is now accused of being anti-Semitic,” after his forceful condemnation of the genocide in Gaza perpetrated by Israel and his party’s clumsy refusal to label Hamas as “terrorist.”

“There is a part of the left that has allied itself with the equivalent of Jean-Marie Le Pen on anti-Semitism,” said Étienne Gernelle, director of Pointduring a debate on France 5. The philosopher Raphaël Enthoven, a regular on the sets, accused Manuel Bompard, Mélenchon’s right-hand man, of wearing the classic anti-fascist pin in the first televised debate because it was “a symbol of Hamas.” “It is a call to kill Jews,” he said on the social network X.

All this campaigning had an impact on the results of the first round. The Popular Front resisted the advance of the far right (33% of the votes) and came second with 28%, relegating Macronism to a fragile third position. But it has very little chance of achieving an absolute majority in the National Assembly, although it could still end up as the first force. It would be quite a success considering the media hostility it has faced.

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