TV appearence boosted support for French far-right leader

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The Independent Online

British National Party leader Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time may have parallels with the successful prime-time TV debut of a far-right French politician, an academic warned today.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the Front National (FN), saw support for his party double overnight after being questioned on a leading French political programme in 1984.

Dr Jim Shields, associate professor in French Studies at Warwick University, said Mr Le Pen's appearance on L'Heure de Verite represented "a real milestone" in his acceptability.

The far-right leader - who went on to come second in France's 2002 presidential election - later pointed to the hour-long TV show as the start of his political ascendancy.

Dr Shields said: "If the clock ticking down to Thursday evening on the BNP's website is anything to go by, Nick Griffin anticipates a similar effect from his appearance on Question Time."

Mr Le Pen's FN was largely boycotted by the media and had less electoral support than the BNP does today when he was invited to appear on L'Heure de Verite (The Hour of Truth) on channel Antenne 2 in February 1984.

The show's format - politicians being questioned on topical issues by a panel of journalists before a live audience - and national significance have parallels to the BBC's Question Time.

Mr Le Pen's appearance attracted widespread opposition and large viewing figures, but he performed well and went some way to dispelling his "bogeyman" image, Dr Shields said.

"It is clear the TV programme had a real impact in legitimising Le Pen and drawing new people to his party," the academic added.

"Just after the programme went out, voting intentions for the FN in the European elections of June 1984 doubled, from 3.5% to 7%, and in the election itself the FN would score fully 11 per cent (2.2 million votes).

"It should also be noted that after the programme, in a Figaro-Magazine poll, those with a 'positive opinion' of Le Pen rose to 13 per cent, and then rose again to 17 per cent by summer 1984.

"This single hour on prime-time television paid huge political dividends for Le Pen and the FN - a real milestone passed in political acceptability.

"In his autobiography, Le Pen would point to that TV programme as the start of his political rise, calling it 'the hour that changed everything'."

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