Bikini snaps erode French political taboos

11th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 11, 2006 (AFP) - Bikini shots of Ségolène Royal, the Socialist favourite for France's presidential election — printed opposite snaps of her main rival jogging on a beach — have rattled the status quo in a country where politicians' private lives have long been taboo.

PARIS, Aug 11, 2006 (AFP) - Bikini shots of Ségolène Royal, the Socialist favourite for France's presidential election — printed opposite snaps of her main rival jogging on a beach — have rattled the status quo in a country where politicians' private lives have long been taboo.

Two French glossies this week printed photos of the svelte 52-year-old in turquoise bathers, swimming and relaxing on a Mediterranean beach with her partner, Socialist leader François Hollande, and their teenage children.

The paparazzi shots are harmless by most standards: "Who would believe she's 53!", ran the caption in Closer magazine, while VSD wrote admiringly of Royal's "siren's figure".

Under the headline 'Duel in the sun', VSD's front page showed Royal opposite her main centre-right rival for next year's vote, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, running bare-chested on the seafront with bodyguards in tow.

But unlike the staged Sarkozy snaps, the Royal pictures — the first to show a French woman politician in small attire — seem to confirm politicians are now seen as fair quarry for the country's gossip press.

"The French public is 10 times more interested in politicians than they used to be," said Marc Dolisi, deputy editor of VSD, one of seven glossies competing for a share of the booming, 2.5 million-reader French market.

Royal's lawyers wrote to both celebrity magazines complaining of a breach of France's strict privacy laws, though they finally decided not to sue.

Protected by the law — and a widespread aversion to intrusive tabloid methods — French politicians long managed to keep their extra-marital affairs and illegitimate children tightly under wraps.

When the first French celebrity magazine, Voici, was launched in 1989, its founder reportedly asked editors to stay clear of politicians.

A sign of this cosy relationship, many Paris journalists had known for years that the late president François Mitterand had a "hidden daughter", Mazarine, before her existence was revealed to the public.

According to Le Monde newspaper, Paris Match was first to break the taboo last year with long-lens pictures of Sarkozy's then-estranged wife and her lover — prompting the minister to sue.

The magazine's director at the time was sacked this year, reportedly under pressure from Sarkozy.

French communications expert Dominique Wolton said the bikini shots were a "dangerous drift" towards British-style tabloid journalism — but that France was "still a long way from the gutter press" seen across the Channel.

"Ségolène Royal in a swimsuit is not a political statement," he fumed.

"It takes me back to 1970s Britain, when people like (veteran Labour MP) Tony Benn complained the press were interested only in personalities not policies," said Colin Randall, Paris correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.

"It is clear that the French magazines are pushing at the limits of the privacy laws."

"But the kind of intrusion which has become commonplace in Britain remains a rarity in France. I wouldn't expect anything remotely similar to happen here quickly," he said.

Instead, Randall said, media-savvy French politicians were likely to "go on trying to have it both ways," playing the celebrity game when it suits them, and otherwise cracking down with lawsuits.

Both young and charismatic, the two presidential hopefuls have been setting the scene for a campaign centred on their personalities.

"It is it is absolutely inevitable that that charisma will be part of — not so much the campaign — but the way the campaign is covered," said Randall.

Both Royal and Sarkozy regularly arrange glossy photo-shoots for themselves, Royal as far back as 1992 when she posed with her newborn child for the popular daily France Soir.

Meanwhile a new book by Sarkozy — which became a surprise summer bestseller — devotes a full chapter to his relationship with his wife, with whom he was recently reunited.

"Neither Ségolène Royal nor Nicolas Sarkozy have been shy of putting their private lives on display. They made the first step," summed up Dolisi.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

 

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