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Macron-Le Pen debate: the codes of a ritual instituted nearly 50 years ago


Will the period of uncertainty for many voters (1) end on Wednesday evening? The debate between the two rounds is of great importance in a presidential system where form counts as much as substance. Many are waiting for this last meeting before the voting booth to see how the two finalists, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, behave to make their choice.

21 rules to control the realization

It is a ritual initiated under the ORTF, between the two rounds of the presidential election of 1974, on the occasion of the confrontation between Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and François Mitterrand. Georges Pompidou’s Minister of the Economy felt at home in the premises of state television, the candidate of the Joint Program was suspicious: television is a tool in the service of power, which he knew how to use. .

When the two men met again in 1981, Mitterrand, convinced that the frame had to be mastered, had 21 rules drawn up to control the production, imposing in particular the absence of cutting plans: the 1974 debate could have been distorted by images of Giscard shaking his head when Mitterrand was talking about economics… Proof that the debate is not just a war of arguments.

Seven years later, the obsession with mastering conditions was even more evident: even the dimensions of the table were traded. It will measure 1.70 meters, the same length as that of François Mitterrand’s office at the Élysée: the outgoing president, stuck in the first cohabitation of the VandRepublic, wants to return Jacques Chirac, his competitor, to his role as Prime Minister. During a debate, you have to know how to push your advantage.

An agreement of the candidates on the journalists who question them

The ritual has since seen few such strong clashes. But he remained unchanged. Only one really shook him up, Jacques Chirac, in 2002: assured of well ahead of his rival Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round, the outgoing president was able to afford the luxury of declining the confrontation. Refusing, he said, to lend himself to the “trivialization of intolerance and hatred”he left it to the anti-Le Pen demonstrators to hold the debate in the street.

It’s 2022 and other than the cast, not much has changed. Much has been written about the choice of presenters, but “As early as 1974, we had an agreement from the candidates on the journalists who would interview them”recalls the media specialist François Jost in West France.

The candidates will be seated each behind their desk, in a very sober setting, with two large screens enclosing a circular tray. »

Thierry Thuillier, news director of the TF1 group

In 2017, Nathalie Saint-Cricq and Christophe Jakubyszyn were also chosen jointly by their channels (France 2 and TF1) and the candidate teams. In the era of ultra-controlled political communication, the negotiations are recorded in a “charter”, heir to Mitterrand’s 21 points. It relates to the length of the program, the decor and its layout.

The candidates will be seated each behind their desk, in a decor of great sobriety, with two large screens enclosing a circular tray “, explains Thierry Thuillier, director of information for the TF1 group. A third table, set back, will welcome journalists Gilles Bouleau (TF1) and Léa Salamé (France Inter and France Télévisions) in charge of “ promote exchanges »planned on purchasing power, health, education, but also the war in Ukraine and perhaps the ecological transition.

A director under close surveillance

As with all debates, a draw will determine which of Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen will speak first. And in management, the director will be under the close supervision of two representatives of the candidates, who will ensure equal treatment.

In 2017, they almost came to blows over the use of cutaways which, pro-Le Pen still say today, had ridiculed their candidate. Viewers had found her feverish and unprepared in the face of a calm and confident Emmanuel Macron.

But, since April 11, there have been an increasing number of reports, private and public channels alike, which give voice to voters ready to switch in his favour: it would be necessary“give him a chance”,“we didn’t try”

A moment of debate, argument against argument (but also image against image) between an outgoing president who will have to carry his balance sheet and a candidate who, in addition to having erased her far-right image, has meticulously prepared will be enough. it to put reason at the heart of the electoral choices of the French?


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