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'Hollande's private life is not an issue for France'

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'Hollande's private life is not an issue for France'
"Hollande's private life is of no concern to the French public or journalists". Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP
09:40 CET+01:00
OPINION: In the second part of this week's Tête-à-tête we hear from a Socialist party senator, a journalist and the French public, who insist François Hollande's private life is of little importance and there are more important national concerns to be addressed at Tuesday's press conference.

The thought of a French president facing hundreds of journalists loaded with questions about an alleged secret affair, is the type of scenario that Socialist party chiefs and even the French public must have feared if notorious philanderer Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a one-time favourite to become president in 2012, had ever been elected into office.

However it is not DSK who faces this prospect but François Hollande, who dubbed himself "Mr Normal" and vowed to be exemplary in office. 

Hollande is under pressure to address his alleged late-night shenanigans when he faces the media but here Socialist Party Senator Richard Yung, Journalist François Dufour and members of the public argue that he has a right to privacy and the French media must uphold the Gallic tradition of respect for a person's private life, rather than follow the path of the Anglo-Saxon press.

Socialist party Senator Richard Yung tells The Local: “We don’t gain much from any of these kind of affairs. In general the French people are not interested. I think this is the first time the French press has published this kind of photo taken in secret of the president. I'm not in favour of this type of journalism, but I am from the older generation of politicians, perhaps the younger ones think differently.

“Why do we need to know what happens in his private life? It has nothing to do with his policies, the decisions he makes etc. These are all separate from his private life.

“The real issues here are the economy and jobs, foreign affairs. What he does privately is his business and most French people will support that.

“I am sure in the future we will see more and more of these kinds of stories and that’s not a positive change. When I go to England I am shocked when I read the papers. I see two pages devoted to the private lives of celebrities or ministers, with little [real] news in there.

“It's true that journalists and politicians are educated together in France at the same universities and Grandes Écoles and it’s a problem, but not just in France. It’s the same in the UK with Oxford and Cambridge. It’s probably worse in France because we have these elite schools like Sciences Po, and it’s one thing we need to change.

François Dufour, French journalist and university lecturer: “The first obligation of the press is to be a journalist. The freedom of the press is not the freedom to write any old rubbish. The second obligation of the press is to respect the laws. Among these is the respect for [someone's] private life – whether the President’s, yours or mine.

“How do we reconcile the freedom of the press with legal obligations? The answer is in the code of ethics of American reporters. 'Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy'. Did the public have an overriding need for Closer to publish this very private information? No. It was just misplaced curiosity. It was not an investigation into wasted pubic money or the security risk to the president…It was not an investigation at all.

“If we editors do not put a barrier between public and private lives then where will it lead to? Next time, if a paparazzi takes a long-lens photo of a president in an interesting sexual position or even with a prostitute, will the media publish that too? The only reason to cross the boundary between public and private is if it's unlawful (sexual assault – DSK, Tax fraud Cahuzac, etc).

“Without limits the freedom of the press is in danger. Just look at Britain, where a Royal Charter was signed on October 30th in order to prevent further abuses of privacy after the phone-hacking scandal. Without limits imposed by us editors, the sky is the limit. Long live freedom of expression, long live technology. But journalism: that's something else.

François Dufour is a journalist and lecturer at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris. These comments first appeared in a comment piece for Le Monde newspaper.

The French Public: 

Anna Roynel, sales manager, Paris:

“It’s none of my business. He’s a politician, not a celebrity,” she said of Hollande’s private life. The French like to keep their private lives to themselves.”

Frédéric, computer scientist, Paris:

“It’s has nothing to do with me. But it’s everywhere. You can’t help but talk about it,” he said of Hollande’s private life. “I’m not concerned by it. Though there is the question of security.

“Reporters [at the press conference] should ask him about the progress of his programs, not this,” Frédéric said. “Maybe it’s better for him if we only talk about this stuff.”

Jean-Christophe Brevière, union representative, Paris:

“It’s private. And he’s a person like any other,” he said. “Besides, he’s not married.

“We hide real problems when we focus on this sort of thing,” he said. “There are real problems in France, like unemployment and the economy and yet we don’t talk about them.” 

Don't agree? Read Matthew Fraser's opposing view. He argues it's time for French journalists to end their complicit relationship with politicians and that Hollande's private life is fair game.

The French media must grill Hollande over this 'farce'

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