The race to become France's next president is down to two candidates, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. This is the first time since 2002 that the French news media have had a candidate from the far-right National Front (FN) to cover in the run-off, Marine Le Pen.

Back in 2002, her father, Jean-Marie was the candidate, but the prospect of an Elysee Palace occupied by the far-right figure led the French establishment - including the media - to close ranks. Le Pen was crushed at the polls.

A lot has changed since then in politics and media, and Marine Le Pen is hoping the French establishment, the media included, is no longer the force it once was. Le Pen is running as an anti-establishment candidate but then that is what her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, calls himself too.

The media have helped her [Marine Le Pen] rise, by spreading her word.

Nadia Henni-Moulay, journalist & founder, MeltingBook

Macron is not fooling anyone in the media with that line. He is, after all, a former cabinet minister and an ex-investment banker - and the French media are clearly siding with him.

Judging from the front pages immediately after round one, the French papers are billing Macron's win as a done deal.

"So it's us against them. Many politicians do not side with Monsieur Macron but they are against Madame Le Pen. And for the most part, that goes for journalists too, who you can see are against us, against the Front National, because very often they work for media owned by the supporters of Monsieur Macron," says Wallerand de Saint-Just, a member of Front National.

Europe is seeing a wave of populist, anti-immigration parties ascending in the polls. But unlike Germany, Austria, Italy and others, this phenomenon is not new to France. The media there have covered the National Front since its birth in 1972.

The party's founding leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, initially called for the systematic repatriation of all immigrants, documented or not. He dismissed the World War II Holocaust and the deaths of six million Jews as "a detail of history", and did so more than once. He acquired a number of convictions for xenophobia and inciting racial hatred.

When she succeeded her father in 2011, Marine Le Pen set out to, as she put it, "de-demonise" the party.

Her tone is much more moderate than his and on the occasions when she does sound like her predecessor, she doesn't talk about Jews, she focuses on Muslims.

Fifteen years ago, the only time Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the second round of the presidential elections, the media coalesced around Jacques Chirac and against the FN. In that respect, history is repeating itself.

But in the age of social media, with anti-establishment forces on the rise and mainstream news outlets in decline, how will the media's pro-Macron message be received?

"[In 2002] We all felt that the world was collapsing. But this time around, journalists were not very surprised with the first round results. They played Marine Le Pen's game and followed her media agenda," explains Henni-Moulai, founder of MeltingBook.

"So in a way, the media have helped her rise by spreading her word. And today, Marine Le Pen could become the next French president."

Contributors:
Scott Sayare, Paris-based journalist
Nadia Henni-Moulai, journalist & founder of MeltingBook
Wallerand de Saint-Just, member, National Front
Daniel Schneidermann, journalist & media analyst

Source: Al Jazeera