The fight against terrorism as an instrument to refocus the presidential communication
Announcing personally, on July 15thin Marseille, the arrest of three suspects who wanted to commit terrorist acts in France, was a turning point in François Hollande’s communication.
“I want to tell you that this week, we prevented terrorist acts that could have been committed. The Ministry of Home affairs will communicate further tomorrow.” It was the first time, President Francois Hollande communicated on an ongoing investigation and not just on the terrorist threat.
Officially, the President only gave information to an audience of journalists. For ease of reference, the media mentioned a mere “communication”. But in reality, it was indeed a political act, not at all spontaneous as some described, but perfectly controlled – which came to highlight a positive result in the prevention of terrorist attacks in France. The challenge is highly symbolic and thus political!
Francois Hollande is now using a new communications mode. The three suspects’ arrest is a first media opportunity that cannot be missed. Mastering the presidential communication therefore forces Francois Hollande to speak first, even taking short Beauvau and law enforcement. Especially as the political agenda is favorable to him with the recent vote of the bill on intelligence by the French Parliament and the vote on the same day within the EU, on the Directive allowing transnational exchanges of air passengers’ data.
Aware that the suspects’ arrest news would create strong media coverage, the President decided to communicate in the wake of his 14th of July interview, in which he extensively focused on international affairs and terrorist threats. The idea was to communicate on the traditional role of the Head of State as a warrant of the French’s security. Then in Marseille, the President communicated on a much more voluntarist tone (“I want to tell you“) and the distribution of roles within the Executive (“The Minister of Home affairs will communicate later“).
The primacy of the announcement and the change of the tone – halfway between crisis communication and mediation – reflect a redefinition of the Elysee’s communication. The latter no longer wants to act in response to events but during the very action, and show it has the lead on operations. The Elysee did not hesitate to communicate about this first result, and rush the “communication” of Minister of Home affairs on technical aspects, despite the police and judicial operation being still underway, which the opposition did not fail to call “political exploitation”.
If the President claims not be campaigning for a second term, one can however notice a change in his communication. Two years before the election, his communication is refocusing the presidential speech around isolated but important media sequences. While playing the card of transparency, the President tends to communicate in an “on the spot” and “spontaneous” way, while ensuring the link between the government, law enforcement and intelligence.
Public opinion is the target of this strategy. The President wants to appear as active and involved, communicating on results and not only as the herald or the informer of dangers threatening French people. Even if the Presidenthas for a long time understood the stakes of controlled communication when it comes to news, the fact he is now using it upstream to events (and not in response to the news) is unprecedented. This example is probably the first of a series of “announcements”.
To watch François Hollande’s declaration on July 15th in Marseille: