If you’re even remotely interested in French politics, chances are you’ve come across his name in recent weeks. The brouhaha surrounding Eric Zemmour, a presidential candidate who is not running (yet), is hard to miss.
At the same time, the media furore around this non-presidential candidate has shed light on the way journalists, TV, and portals fabricate and empower political figures nowadays.
Hardly a day, if not an hour, goes by without French television mentioning the controversial far-right TV pundit, whose rise in the polls is worrying both the ruling majority and Marine Le Pen’s teams.
Zemmour has achieved the feat of being omnipresent in the public debate, despite a total absence of any programme whatsoever, let alone an official candidature.
As a journalist himself, he sure knows how to take advantage of this situation and court the spotlight while his narrative builds up to some sort of a climax. As long as he is not officially running, he can afford not to propose anything concrete and not be accountable for it.
In the meantime, he gets all the media attention, and the figures are impressive. Since 1 September, the name of the far-right “polemicist” – a ubiquitous word in French that has come in handy for the media to qualify Zemmour – has been cited in nearly 14,000 articles in the French press, according to a study by the Tagaday platform.
And the sources of these mentions do not even include the 24-hour news channel CNews, where Zemmour had his own daily slot until the French audiovisual watchdog demanded that his speaking time be counted in the same way as candidates officially in the running.
This, they said, was in the name of political plurality and per French rules.
While CNews had to get rid of its golden goose, this did not translate into him disappearing from the airwaves – quite the contrary.
Between 7 September 7 and 7 October, Checknews counted 145 mentions of Zemmour in the CNews’ Twitter feed, far ahead of the second-place finisher with 26 mentions, his potential right-wing rival, Marine Le Pen.
As I said before, it is not an isolated phenomenon: Zemmour also took the lion’s share of the feeds of the other three major news channels, BFM TV, LCI, and Franceinfo.
This over-presence on social networks is not merely anecdotal when we now know that right-wing content benefits from greater “algorithmic amplification”, as Twitter recently reported.
I do not blame journalists for this. Instead, I question the significance of the role journalists have in creating such a media figure.
Given the detailed measures he has tabled, or the lack thereof, one may rightly wonder what Eric Zemmour’s over-representation in the media is built upon.
Is it his relevant response to the concerns of the French? Or is it because his strategy is in line with the economic model of these channels, anxious to keep their audience on its toes?
That being said, I wish journalists would confront him more on his shortcomings and stop following his every move in the hope he would finally declare himself a candidate on their microphone. They should know better by now.
Even I find myself conflicted over the column inches Zemmour is entitled to in the media.
I am reluctant to relay the words of someone who the courts condemned for “provocation to racial discrimination”, of someone who believes women have “archaic brains”, of someone who said he would forbid parents to name their child “Mohammed”, of someone who will refuse to allow LGBT associations do anti-discrimination work in schools.
These are just a few examples as the list goes on and on.
Let us hope that the moral dilemma will go one way or the other when he announces he is officially running for the presidential election – if he ever does.
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Look out for…
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Views are the authors.
[Edited by Alice Taylor/Zoran Radosavljevic]