Although the economic situation in Russia is much more difficult than in France, Russian TV viewers massively followed the programme « Direct Line with Vladimir Putin », while the French showed scarce interest in « Citizen Dialogues with François Hollande ». The audience levels of the two programmes correspond to the public support garnered respectively by each political figure. For Thierry Meyssan, contrary to the dogmas of communication gurus, TV viewers and the electorate are not swayed by poor economic indicators, but rather by their president’s capacity as a leader or as a simple manager.
By Thierry Meyssan Translated by Anoosha Boralessa 18 April 2016
On 14 April 2016, Vladamir Putin and François Hollande responded on television, each in their country, to questions of their fellow citizens . In both cases, it was of a pure exercise of communication; other novelty – it was not announced before hand.
A European Format
First, this type of programme has been made for some years on the European continent, but not in other countries such as the United States.
If President Barack Obama accepts responding to questions of his fellow citizens during public protests, that is the exception and would not be organized in an evening. To demonstrate his proximity to his people, he prefers to eat pizza with his family in a fast-food [restaurant], surrounded by a myriad of photographers. Once settled in the White House, the US president is not accountable to anyone, nor to Congress (apart from for crimes justifying his removal), nor to the electorate. On the contrary, in Europe, there is a long tradition of questioning the head of state. This one need not fear direct contact with the people. Thus it is it is frequent/normal to see a European leader take walkabout, while the US president only moves in a bullet proof car, surrounded by a great number of body guards.
Vladimir Putin had chosen a grandiose staging: a huge room with a large public and a programme scheduled for three and a half hours (that even over ran by 10 minutes). In contrast, François Hollande opted for a less grandiose décor: a small room with only tens of citizens from the public and a format twice as short - only one and a half hours. In both cases there was no permanent studio, but rooms specially fitted out for the broadcast.
Clearly, people skilled at taking the floor had been carefully selected. At the end, two citizens invited to express their views on France2 had been thanked on the instruction of the Elysee. It seems that it was to avoid a form of anger and obstinacy. Ultimately, only four citizens were authorized to take the floor. The selection by 1tv and the Kremlin was simpler. Even if there was a far higher number of participants, the Russian citizens followed each other quickly to the mic and thus their face-à-face with their president was not as limited.
The Russian studio received TV viewers that had been made to journey in from the province on the pretext of attending a show. It was only at the last minute that they realized they would be participating in The Direct Line to Vladimir Putin. This procedure considerably reduced work for the security services. Furthermore, the channel had invited numerous personalities known in science and economy. Finally, the Russian President had invited his ministers and generals to join the public as it is usage during an official press conference. In contrast, the French public was only composed of anonymous people; François Hollande having chosen to appear as an ordinary citizen.
Two Presidents Face Bad Economic Results
The two presidents presented themselves to their fellow citizens bad economic results. Russia is undergoing a deep recession (more than 4 %), while France is faced with slow de-industrialization and growing unemployment. The international context, notably the extremely low of cost of petrol, unfortunately goes against Russian exports, but constitutes a godsend for French agriculture and the French importing industry. Despite this, President Putin was on the offensive whereas his French homologue was on the defensive.
However, Russians are aware that the recession was deliberately provoked by Western sanctions, whereas the French look on the good economic results of their European Union partners.
Two Contrasting Manners of Responding to Questions
President Putin responded to questions by clarifying what his position was. When an injustice was put to him, he undertook to deal with it personally, which he did the following day. But he never responded by evoking establishing social welfare payments or their amount; a subject that he leaves to his minister. He conceived his role as that of a manager that sets out the consequences of the different options that are available to him, then decides which appears to him to be the best.
On the contrary, President Holland has responded to questions by listing the different measures his government has taken in that sector. It was for him to show that he works effectively by referring to the quantity of subsidies and allocations, established or modified. But he never responded by alluding to the strategic choices that he had to decide upon. He conceived his role of that of a redistributor, who does not intervene in the market of events but corrects the inequalities that it produces.
By doing this, François Hollande has, from this point, abdicated his function and has lowered himself to the level of a director of central management. He was no longer a leader but a high official applying a policy.
On internal matters, President Putin stressed the important role of different parties contributing to defending perspectives that, at their core, are complementary and useful to the country. Thus he appeared to unite the parties from the top. At no point did he evoke his personal ambition.
By choosing to debate with two citizens that have presented themselves as challengers—a Front National voter and someone who participated in the Nuit debout —, President Hollande has thrown himself into the partisan arena. Even if he has tried to position himself as defending Republic institutions rather than a candidate for the Left. This measure aimed to allow him to enter in the forthcoming electoral campaign where he hopes to solicit his own succession. However by choosing a voter for the FN (Front nationale) who was claimed he voted for this course out of anger, he seemed to give himself up to a former battle. Indeed, today voting Front national is not longer an anti-Establishment expression but translates to support for a programme.
To demonstrate their proximity, the two presidents have had strategies that sharply contrast.
Vladimir Putin allowed children the chance to speak. One of them asked him if he ate porridge for breakfast and if his tastes had changed over time. He responded very kindly, showing that he was accessible to all.
François Hollande chose to show his emotions, bringing up the announcement put to him some days before, that three young solders had died on mission. There again he was out of sync with his presidential role: a head of state does not have to use personal emotion to justify a position taken for his country. We did not understand his problem: if these solders sacrificed themselves for the Nation, he should have proudly celebrated them as heroes. Are we made to understand that he had sent them to die for something else and that he felt guilty?
A Question of Authority
At essence, these two men sent out radically different messages.
Vladimir Putin proved his accessibility. When a citizen asks him a question that he had already addressed, he asks the journalists to let him continue. He makes it clear that he has not come with his watch and that he has time for everyone.
François Hollande was preparing for his succession. He came, in his own worlds, « to deliver his account » to the electorate, to be able to solicit their support again. He did not think of himself as a president setting out the choices before the country; instead he found himself implicitly in the position of a suppliant seeking to prove his good faith.
Around 60% of Russian TV viewers watched, for 3 h 40, the marathon of President Putin. Less than 15 % of French TV viewers were interested in the 1 h 30 to the electoral campaign of François Hollande. These figures correspond globally to the support of which the two men enjoy in their countries; support that bears no relation to the economic situation but which is uniquely established on their natural authority, their manner of understanding/conceiving their function.