April 10, 2018 / 11:39 AM / 10 months ago

France’s Macron steps off pedestal to take on TV battle

PARIS (Reuters) - After keeping the media mostly at arm’s length since becoming president a year ago, Emmanuel Macron is giving several big interviews as he defends sweeping reforms that have brought France’s workers and students out in protest.

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron is seen on a video camera screen as he delivers a speech on security to representatives of French national police, gendarmes and "Sentinelle" security plan soldiers at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

With a reputation for haughtiness, Macron has only given three text interviews in the last 10 months, one on European civilisation, another on the need for ‘political heroism’ and a third, last week, on artificial intelligence.

He has sat down with French TV twice, but both occasions were widely dismissed as soft or pandering.

So as his first anniversary in office approaches and social unrest deepens, with railway workers and airline pilots on strike, students angry and environmental activists clashing with police, Macron is unexpectedly speaking up.

This week he will make a number of TV appearances, including an hour-long, live appearance on a popular lunchtime show on Thursday, where he will be quizzed about the strikes, terrorism and slower speed limits that have annoyed drivers.

“It’s only the third interview granted by the president to a French TV channel since his election last spring,” TFI said in a press release, sounding almost surprised by Macron’s availability.

Early in his presidency, Macron was lampooned in the media for suggesting he would be “Jupiterian” in office — speaking from on high like the Roman god of gods, delivering occasional pronouncements from a dignified distance.

But on Sunday, the 40-year-old former investment banker will give a two-hour interview to two journalists known for their combative style of questioning, with three outlets broadcasting the event simultaneously.

“He wants to flood the space, saturate it even,” newspaper Le Figaro wrote of the rush of interviews that it said was Macron’s response to protests by railway workers, students, hospital staff and others.

“Determined to keep up the pace of reforms despite the strikes, the head of state has decided to descend into the media arena and explain his policies to the French people.”

Macron’s office has not said why he is suddenly hitting the airwaves. The anniversary of his first year in office is not until May 14.

During his campaign for the presidency, Macron promised to be “neither of the left nor the right”. But many on the left now consider him a “president of the rich” with policies they see as pro-business or tailored to the wealthy.

He is changing labour rules, pensions and taxes; plans to cut the number of seats in parliament; and has begun a major overhaul of education - all areas where he risks robust opposition.

Macron has shown an eagerness to take on detractors face-to-face, confronting some in the streets. The interview on Sunday is being cast as a showdown between a pugnacious president and two equally punchy questioners.

One element that hints at Macron’s political craftiness is the timing. Airing at 8:35 p.m., the interview coincides with Paris St Germain playing Monaco in the French soccer league, a broadcast likely to draw a much bigger audience.

Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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