BBC News has reported that with many of France’s major media outlets owned by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s close friends, publicly criticizing Sarkozy is not easy. Fears have arisen that the freedom of the French press is now being stifled. Last summer, few in France remarked that Sarkozy appeared seemingly drunk in front of television cameras at a news conference following a meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G8 Summit. When Sarkozy visited Moscow in October, he was ridiculed by major Russian media outlets for his high-heeled boots and his confusion over central Moscow landmarks. He was jokingly described as a modern Napoleon, lost in Moscow. The lampooning was all the more remarkable in that we all know that such commentary would not appear in the Russian press without the Kremlin’s approval, or instruction. In France, however, little was reported on the disrespectful treatment of their head of state.
Sarkozy’s antics, however, are no longer just a subject of ridicule. In December Sarkozy made his preposterous phone call to congratulate Vladimir Putin on the rigged Duma elections. As a man clearly consumed with his image, this seemed an odd move in light of his having been mocked by the Russians. And beyond considerations of his own ego, Sarkozy’s phone call further fueled the Kremlin’s belief that it can get away with anything and still count on having lackeys in the West. Sarkozy later defended his congratulatory phone call, saying: “It is ridiculous to hold against Mr Putin an election when absolutely all its international observers will tell you that he is the most popular politician in Russia.”If an election can be legitimized by popularity based on reports of a harnessed media, then maybe that is behind Sarkozy’s domestic media strategy. Yet Sarkozy should be careful not to believe his own media machine, and to make foreign policy decisions based on facts and realities rather than the stories – or lack thereof – that appear in his country’s media.PHOTO: Blanket coverage of Mr Sarkozy’s private life has alarmed some. (BBC/AFP)