Before being shaken up by the appearance of the internet and the revolution of social networks, television was the setting for the main political contests. Theater of murderous debates or sequences that have become cults, the small screen offered a multitude of highlights under the Fifth Republic. This summer, Le Figaro tells you behind the scenes of these meetings.

All’s well that ends badly. “This is the second time in the history of the Fifth Republic that a sitting president has visited the studios of a television channel…”, began Paul Nahon at the launch of “19/20”, this 30 June 2008. That proves that I appreciate France Televisions in general, and France 3 in particular , the cut Nicolas Sarkozy, in a broad smile. The viewers who attend this exchange of courtesies have no idea yet, but they will soon discover the atmosphere that reigned on the set a few moments earlier. When a discussion of about ten minutes – off the air but not off the microphone – gave rise to some settling of scores, filmed, recorded, and immediately broadcast by the online media Rue89.

It is a little before 7 p.m. that evening when a technician in charge of sound testing leaves the presidential salute unanswered. “It’s a question of education,” laughs the president yellow. And to add, his face swept with brushstrokes: “Finally, when you are invited, you have the right for people to say hello to you anyway. Or we are not in the public service, we are among the demonstrators. It’s something else huh… It’s incredible. And serious.” Visibly annoyed, the tenant of the Élysée seems to say then that “it will change”. First interpreted as the announcement of a forced reshuffle at France 3, the formula caused a stir in the public service, which then feared presidential interventionism. Later, the journalists present on the set, Audrey Pulvar, Véronique Auger and Gérard Leclerc, will deny this version to Télérama.

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According to them, Véronique Auger had in fact just reacted to Nicolas Sarkozy’s reprimands in a resigned tone: “You know, it’s France.” To which the person concerned would have replied: “No, it is the old one.” Before adding: “It will change, there, it will change.” An exchange linked to the hostile reception reserved a few minutes earlier for the Head of State, awaited on his arrival by around twenty employees of France Télévisions who, armed with a banner “Better life without Sarkozy”, protested against his coming to the premises. A way of expressing their disagreement with his plan to reform public broadcasting, which notably provided for the abolition of advertising between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., and the appointment of the director of the group by the government.

But the controversy did not end there. While there is a little time left before the launch of the newspaper, and while the discussion continues, Nicolas Sarkozy changes register and is dithyrambic vis-à-vis the brand new studio of the chain. “Very beautiful,” he notes. Before moving on to the presence of journalist Gérard Leclerc, after being sidelined: “It’s nice to see Mr. Leclerc on the air. How long did you stay in the closet?” he asks. And to continue: “I protested when it was put in the closet.” A few seconds whose form – the familiarity – and content – the mention of an intervention – will fuel the controversy.

Especially since, to this episode, is added the rest of the sequence, when Nicolas Sarkozy asks the director of information and evening presenter, Paul Nahon: “You don’t want to ask a topical question about Carcassonne, no ?” The same morning, the president went to the city of Aude, where an accidental shooting had injured several people. A news conducive to push Nicolas Sarkozy on the front of the stage therefore. The journalist explains that he intends to address the event but insists all the same with his team: “So we are talking about Carcassonne with the president afterwards.”

7 minutes and 42 seconds long, Nicolas Sarkozy’s “off” video, posted the same day on the Rue89 site, had a bad effect on France 3. On July 8, 2008, the channel filed a complaint against X for theft, concealment and counterfeit. A technician was even indicted in November for “videogram theft”. He then risks, in addition to the loss of his job, three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros.

The legal torments continued on June 11, 2010 when the journalist from Rue89, Augustin Scalbert, was in turn indicted for “concealment”. The news outrages the profession, which denounces an intolerable attack on journalism. “The judge asked me where the images came from but I obviously refused to answer,” explained Augustin Scalbert, “surprised to be prosecuted for a common law offense when (he did) than his job as a journalist. This media specialist faces up to 5 years in prison and a fine of 375,000 euros. He then explains this decision “only by pressure from the Élysée”.

The director of Rue89 at the time, Pierre Haski, argues that the off-air images “do not contain any state secrets, or alcoves, but provide information on a president then in office for only a year and which was in open conflict with the employees of France Televisions around the reform of the statute of the audio-visual public. These images are, in our view, part of the public’s right to information about their head of state in the exercise of his function. Four years later, the journalist will benefit from a dismissal before rejoicing in a “Champagne!” on Twitter. Since then, the sequence has survived Rue89: the site now belongs to L’Obs, but the video is still online.