Marine Le Pen’s National Front is living off the same media coverage advantages that Donald Trump profited off in the Republican primaries.
The French presidential election has been taking on speed in recent weeks: former Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron is running as an independent, Thatcher-admiring François Fillon won the Republican primary, former president Nicolas Sarkozy left French politics after losing his primary, and incumbent president François Hollande announced he will not stand for re-election in 2017 as Prime Minister Manuel Valls resigned in order to prepare his own presidential bid.
Meanwhile, France’s National Front is working hard to ensure that Marine Le Pen qualifies for the second round presidential vote in April 2017. Le Pen’s platform is that of hard-line protectionism: taxing imports and subsidizing the local economy, leaving the European Union, and bringing back the French Franc as a currency.
The National Front also suggests lowering the retirement age to 60, changing the election law to proportional representation (which would favor themselves), limitingimmigration to only 10,000 people a year, deporting not only illegal immigrants but also all foreigners who have committed a crime, and indicated that children of foreign criminals should not benefit from the education system. This policy of “national priority” paired with a hard-left economic policy is nothing short of actual national socialism. The far-right party has complained that unfair coverage by the “establishment” and “left-wing” media is undermining their efforts.
Trump, Le Pen, and the Media
Donald Trump had nothing but contempt for the American press, constantly bemoaning his lack of coverage, when in fact he received considerably more news coverage both on TV ($2 billion of free airtime until March 2016 alone) and in the written press.
The similarity with Le Pen is frighteningly striking: Marine Le Pen has consistently called out the “biased” media and even taken her criticism to Twitter. In April, she tweeted, “The National Front has only been getting 5% of airtime on political channels. It’s wrong to say that we’ve been provided with a red carpet.”
Yet the five percent figure, while a favorite Le Pen talking point, is terribly misleading because it stems from an independent research group that only studied a few major stations. Further research found that between 2014 and 2015, National Front’s vice-chair Florian Philippot was the most invited politician on French TV and radio, with Le Pen in the top 15 of invited guests, surpassing many government officials. In last year’s regional election campaign, her party received 18 percent of airtime. Le Pen has been getting almost one morning interview per day, while her party cleared 43 percent of airtime on BFTMTV, 50 percent on Canal+, and 29 percent on France 3.
Furthermore, Le Pen is very selective about her media appearances. Le Pen has refused to appear on the French radio station France Inter, a channel she has nicknamed “the Bolshevist channel.” In May 2015, the camera team of the satirical Canal+ TV show Le Petit Journal was violently attacked by both the National Front MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Bruno Gollnisch and supporters of the party.
The relationship between the far-right and the media is a sincere reason for concern.
And yet it makes sense that the far-right is favored so much by the media: Le Pen sells. Once an article mentions Le Pen’s name, she will become the thumbnail, title or cover. Even though every major poll has her losing to the Conservative candidate in the second round of the presidential election, the uncertainty of her eventual success becomes a marketing point. After all, “we didn’t foresee Brexit or Trump, so why shouldn’t we fear Le Pen as well?” seems to have become the new mantra.
This article was first published by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).