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Mass medias and their political role Essay

« Medias » comes from the latin « media » that designs all means of communication ; such as printing press, radio, television, Internet.

There has been a mediatic revolution in Europe, and specially en France, since the end of the XIX th century, which accompanied the birth of the Republic and its main political crisis, at is allowed the expression of the public opinion. In June 29th, 1881, the Law on the Freedom of the Press allowed the liberty of expression though settling its limits such as the prohibition of defamation, against the press offences, incitements to racial hatred or attainment on other’s property and public security. This law permitted a greater involvement of the public opinion in major political crisis that happened in France since the end of the XIXth century, such as the following ones I am going to present : the Dreyfus Affair, the Vichy France and the elections of June 2002.

The Dreyfus Affair :

This political crisis illustrates the major role of printing press. At that time, the Jules ferry Laws had increased alphabetisation, so the press became much more accessible to lower classes of society. More newspapers were printed and sold at a far cheaper price ; it was a democratisation of the press.

At the time of the Dreyfus Affair, there was a huge debate about secularism (“Laicité”), in which the press involved itself by expressing the public opinion. L’Humanité was more biased on a socialist point of view whereas La Croix belonged to the right wing of the political life, though it is really with the Dreyfus Case that the politicisation took place.

In November 1rst, 1894, the far right-wing and antisemit newspaper La Libre Parole, accused Captain Alfred Dreyfus, of jewish confession, of having betrayed France by being a spy for Germany. Dreyfus was sentenced to death. But the public opinion was vehemently divided and represented through the press.There was the pro-Army, nationalists Anti-Dreyfusards and the pro-Republicans, also called Dreyfusards, who led a ferocious battle against the other camp.

The term “intellectual” was created at that time to design journalists that committed themselves in the affair. For exemples : – Emile Zola, a naturalist writer, publishes in January 13th, 1898, his false letter/pamphlet “J’accuse” in L’Aurore, asking for more justice from the President, and so for Dreyfus’ commutation. It was the very first engagement of intellectuals in the press. – Jean Jaurés also demonstrated cleverly the innocence of Dreyfus in “Les preuves” published in La République.

We have then an example of a bipolarised press reflecting a bipolarised public opinion. The expression of diverse voices greatly influenced the release and rehabilitation of Dreyfus in 1906, just one year after the victory of the secularism laws.

WWII : The French State or Vichy France :

In 1940, with the creation of the French collaborating and antisemit State, there has been a significant division of medias : – The official press became marechalist (newspaper Je suis partout), proclaiming the need for collaboration, denouciations…; – A clandestine, illegal press appeared (Libération) supporting the Resistance movement, in which people were encouraged to resist and to make life harder to the Occupier (sabotages, hidding illegal peole….). The press had a serious influence on the behaviours of the French State’s people. But radio too took a major role in this event : – Radio Paris was tightly controlled by the governement since the first public diffusion by the radio in 1921. – Radio Londres (written this way on the internet) on the contrary did not support the german occupation so that it allowed De Gaulle to communicate with France and deliver his famous speech in June 18th, 1940, in which he encouraged French soldiers and workers to continue fighting against the collaborators and occupiers and the inhabitants of the French State to resist. Radio was also used a well as leaflets, to improve the organisation of resistant actions.

The Algerian War (1954-1962) :

At the beginning of the war, the medias took great interest in this new political crisis that the government had trouble in solving. “L’Algérie, c’est la France !” declares François Mitterand, then Minister of the Interior at the TV/Radio. In fact, after the loss of Indochina, France could not afford to lose Algeria as well according to many state members. But different opinions were debated over in the press mainly (France Soir, Le Parisien Libéré, Le Figaro…), by the four main radios representing round 38 millions of listeners, and the emerging but still very elitist television. When the government sent the contigent in 1956, the jounalists were very much involved in illustrating the public opinion and the Ifop (an institute of survey and opinion polls) revealed that the polls mainly revealed a global wish for negociations rather than fightings. But the government did not want to lose its credibility and censored the press, getting hold of some (L’Express), and arrested some of the most vehement journalists. But some newspapers (L’Express and La France-Observateur) and authors (François Mauriac) denonced the political measures and repression to make it transparent to the public.

There was no more stability in the French government and DeGaulle was asked to come back to power in 1958, which he did, at the price that a new Constitution should be put into office and that the fifth Republic shall be claimed. De Gaulle used as he did a few years before, the power of medias as a tool to communicate with the French people, mainly using the ORTF, The Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française, which monopolised Frenc TV emissions and allowed him to put forward his own opinion. This allowed him to avoid the putsch of the generals in April 1961 (they wanted to take power in Alger in order to maintain the French Algeria against De Gaulle’s policy of negociations) by directly talking to the called in order to discourage them from helping the generals. Finally Algeria became independent with the Evian Accords in 1962.

But a few years later, with May 1968 it clearly appeared that the government controlled no longer the medias, which became more and more independent and were less used as an influencial tool of the government, but only as a mean to express opinions or to give more information (ex : the presidential elections of June 2002, when the Internet, newspapers and televion altogether permitted a mobilisation of the voters against Jean-Marie Le Pen.)

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