Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sarkozy and the Media - Kerozene on Inferno.

BAGnews quotes an article from the LA Times saying that
... the first spark of the outbreak can actually be traced back to October 26 when Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy led a media contingent to the poverty stricken community of Argenteuil.
In this respect, it is worth noting that Sarkozy made his high profile visit (with loads of journalists) to Argenteuil to meet with police forces at a local police station at night, at about 10:30 p.m. The interesting part is that the police station closing hours are between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m. ... so it remained open solely for Sarkozy’s visit. That looks like a political stunt.
At the same time, the Mayor of Argenteuil, who belongs to the same conservative party as Sarkozy (UMP), said that he only found out about the Minister’s visit through the local newspaper. In other words, he had not been prepared for his visit which may have not helped for things to go smootly (you'd think that warning the local authorities would have been a good idea)
On the other hand, the media are also to be blamed, and that’s particularly true of television. The news htta night all showed Sarkozy using the word “racaille” (often translated by “scum”) but further investigation by other journalists a week later concluded that the word was actually first used by a tenant on the second floor of a high-rise project who was talking with Sarkozy. So the Minister was actually repeating her expression. This may not change anything. After all, he did choose to repeat the word in front of dozens of reporters anyway. Yet, it would have been better to contextualize the event.
Another example of the media’s responsibility is how they chose to stress the controversial parts of the visit. It seems that the evening was not limited to throwing projectiles at the minister (which did happen) nor to Sarkozy's inflammatory words. Sarkozy also had a long talk with the locals, including youths (for about an hour according to witnesses), a talk that went really well. The TV reporters were there but chose not to broadcast any of it in the evening news. I suppose those images of talks were not controversial enough and did not sell well. A France2 journalist, Françoise Laborde has suggested that the editing may have also been the result of some anti-Sarkozy feelings in the media.
All this can be read (in French) here and watched (also in French) here.
I am not trying to defend Sarkozy but a lack of contextualization could only add to the growing tension. At the same time, Sarkozy who has based his popularity on his image of a hard-line, law-and-order demagogue on the issue of domestic insecurity could not afford to look weak and thus damage his presidential campaign.
A few days before his visit to Argenteuil, Sarkozy made the dealines by saying that the ghettos should be cleaned up with “Karsker”. As you can read here,
"Karcher" is the well-known brand name of a system of cleaning surfaces by super-high-pressure sand-blasting or water-blasting that very violently peels away the outer skin of encrusted dirt -- like pigeon-shit
So there is no word in English that translates the connotation of the French word "Karsher". It was clearly understood by many people living in those ghettos as a quasi-fascist insult.
So it is this interaction of blood-thirsty TV and a demagogue politician that was the recipe for a disaster in an already very precarious situation.

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