Public and private: The criteria by which François Hollande should be judged

Do private indiscretions affect the ability of an individual to discharge public duties?

Just as the traditional baguette is being displaced in French households by the Anglo-Saxon supermarket loaf, so too do we find the usual restraint shown by the French media in reporting the private lives of their leaders being elbowed aside by the sort of habits that have got the British press into so much trouble.

On both sides of the Channel, the question is, or ought to be, whether private indiscretions affect the ability of an individual to discharge public duties. In the case of President Hollande, what he may or may not get up to in his spare time would seem to have scant impact on the policies he pursues, though this is much complicated by his partner Valérie Trierweiler’s admission to hospital. That cannot be anything but a distraction, though obviously not one that he intended and one that disclosure of the President’s alleged affair with an actress may have precipitated.

At all events, the amount of media coverage devoted to the affair, if such it is, is quite disproportionate to the vastly more important issues he and his nation face, and which should be the subject of attention in his press conference today. He ought to be asked about what, if anything, France can do about the genocide threatened in the Central African Republic, and its other interventions across its former colonial possessions in Africa. France also has a key role to play in Syria. The country’s economy remains becalmed, with youth unemployment scarring the lives of many thousands of families, especially among ethnic minorities. Civil unrest as a result of these pressures is hardly a distant memory. France’s dependence on nuclear power and its attitude to reform of the European Union are other issues to be addressed.

If he is sensible, the President will ignore all questions that do not affect his ability to fulfil his public responsibilities, and the press should stick to the things that matter. The former is near-certain; the latter the least likely outcome. France may soon be noisily debating precisely the same questions that obsessed the British media during recent years, perhaps with their own Leveson Inquiry. We wish them luck.