- Title: French far left firebrand sets YouTube alight with eyes on presidency
- Date: 6th January 2017
- Summary: INTERNET (JANUARY 6, 2017) (REUTERS) STILL IMAGE OF MELENCHON'S YOUTUBE PAGE IMAGE SHOWING NUMBER OF SUBSCRIBERS (152,957)
- Embargoed: 21st January 2017 15:12
- Keywords: Melenchon France election YouTube left social media campaign presidential candidate
- Location: PARIS AND MARSEILLE, FRANCE AND INTERNET
- City: PARIS AND MARSEILLE, FRANCE AND INTERNET
- Country: France
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting
- Reuters ID: LVA0065XY03LZ
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: French far left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon has set YouTube alight, beating all of his rivals for the French presidency with regular videos watched by tens of thousands of subscribers who see him as France's answer to U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.
At a traditional new year's political meeting on Thursday (January 5), activists, strategists and the media gathered to hear him talk foreign policy, bashing perceived French Atlanticism and saying that Russia was not a destabilising force for world peace.
But outside the small room in east Paris where the event took place, supporters were able to follow his speech from the privacy of their own homes, and Melenchon has built up an online following he himself is proud of.
"This is a media outlet," Melenchon told viewers in one of his latest videos published on his official YouTube channel on December 30.
"We now have audience figures for each Review of the Week which equals a programme on a 24-hour news channel," he added.
More than 150,000 people subscribe to his channel -- 25 times more than the far right's Marine Le Pen on 5,900, 50 times more than the conservative candidate Francois Fillon and more even than recently-defeated U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Many of his rivals on the left do not have an official channel.
Melenchon ran for the presidency in 2012 garnering 11 percent of the vote in the first round but polls predict that his share this time will rise faced with a demoralised Socialist party weary after five years in power. The latest Elabe poll published on Thursday credited him with 14 percent.
And social media will form a key part of the strategy, spokesman Alexis Corbiere told Reuters, offering a direct link to the voters without relying on the mainstream media.
"At the moment there's a lot of criticism of the traditional media, who sometimes shape the debate somewhat, who make it too short, too superficial, and social media allow a candidate like Jean-Luc Melenchon to address all of those who are interested in his ideas by creating his own channel, by developing the themes he wants to develop more favourably, by responding to the questions people ask him. So there's already that quite new format which means we can present our programme without always going through the traditional media," he said.
It also allows the campaign to target a younger audience, reminiscent of the support base of one-time U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders whose Socialist platform electrified the Democratic primaries though Clinton ultimately won the nomination.
Twenty-four year old political science student Pierre-Yves Cadalen is an ardent YouTube follower of Melenchon and sees much in his movement that reminds him of Sanders.
"There's momentum because there are many, a great many, young people like me, but also the working class, people from working class neighbourhoods, we've been to 200 places campaigning to get people on the electoral register, and access to social rights, you'll have seen that the number of people signed up is incredible this year, and there is actually momentum around his ideas. You can't fixate on the person. And it's true that he is the age he is but he has new ideas, he has ideas which can motivate people," he said.
Melenchon's team will be watching the ongoing Socialist primaries closely, with the results expected at the end of the month, to see which rival candidate emerges on the left.
But the latest polling suggests that whoever the governing party picks, Melenchon will beat them in the first round.
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