French newspaper round-up 20 October 2016

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The European Mars lander Schiaparelli is missing in action. The machine’s minders say they aren’t worried. Yet. Russian President Vladimir Putin would seem to have little to fear from a divided Europe. Does proposed legislation threaten press freedom here in France?

There’s still no word from Mars. The European lander Schiaparelli was supposed to make a gentle descent to the surface of the Red Planet yesterday afternoon, and then phone home once it had got settled in.

Not a whisper.

The gadget, which looks a bit like a foil-wrapped Indian meal with all the trimmings, was sending out radio signals until just before the scheduled landing time, 16.48 yesterday. There’s been nothing but deathly silence since!

The scientists responsible for the project, interviewed by Le Monde, say they aren’t too worried. The tray of onion bhajis could have landed in a deep crater, making radio communication difficult. But with two satellites in orbit around Mars, both actively searching for Schiaparelli, we shouldn’t have to wait too long for news of the interplanetary take-away.

Far right may profit from police unrest

Closer to home, left-leaning Libération says police anger in the wake of a violent attack on four officers earlier this month is being orchestrated by the far-right FN, known to have substantial support among the forces of law and order.

There were more police protests last night, notably in Paris and the eastern city of Nancy, with personal security and generally poor working conditions the key complaints.

Divided Europe meets to discuss divisive Russian sanctions

Right-wing Le Figaro gives the honours to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president who, according to the conservative paper’s main headline, has divided Europe.

Putin has been intensely active on the diplomatic front over the past few days, reopening talks on the future of Syria with the United States, suspending Russian bombing of the city of Aleppo, showing willingness to talk to France and Germany about just how much of Ukraine Moscow should be allowed to gobble. Despite all the talk, says Le Figaro, Putin has changed nothing except his image, and that leaves a divided Europe more confused than ever.

France, Germany and Great Britain have all recently called for an increase in the pressure of sanctions against Moscow. But, as long as Putin keeps the bombers away from Aleppo, he has the upper hand.

Tonight’s European summit will consider long-term relations with Russia, relations which have recently focused solely on how to sanction Russian misdeeds.

Now, Matteo Renzi’s Italy is starting to suffer the commercial impact of the sanctions intended to hurt Putin, Viktor Orban in Hungary won’t do anything to offend his friend in the Kremlin and Slovakia gets practically all its oil and gas from Russia. Greece and Cyprus are historical allies of Moscow, with the orthodox religion as cultural cement.

With Great Britain on the way out of the EU, Obama packing up at the White House, and Europe more divided than ever on foreign policy, Putin would appear to have little to fear.

Fears that proposed law threatens media freedom

Le Monde is worried about press freedom. The centrist paper’s editorial says there are three things wrong with the proposed law on Equality and Citizenship, debated by the Senate yesterday and now on its way back to the National Assembly for a second reading.

In the first place, says Le Monde, it is ridiculous to maintain the current statute of limitations, that is, the date beyond which one can no longer take action against an article in the press, at three months for printed newspapers while the new law would extend the delay to one year for articles which appear on the web. Le Monde’s website, for example, which reproduces the printed paper almost word-for-word would thus automatically extend the period during which the publication could be attacked in the courts.

The second problem is that the responsibility for establishing in what way your legal rights have been infringed by a passage in a newspaper, currently the business of the complainant, would under the new law become the work of an investigating judge. This will create more work for the already stretched legal police and leave very little time for the accused parties to mount a defence.

Third, the new legislation would allow anyone to claim that a specific article has caused them harm and attack the writer under civil law. This, the senators were quick to add, does not include professional journalists; the aim is to put manners on the authors of web blogs and anyone who writes on the internet. But newspapers are actually considered to be “people” under French law and could, if the new bill is passed, face civil charges in place of their individual journalists.

Le Monde says the regulations controlling the French press have been broadly unchanged since 1881 and have proved their efficiency in protecting press freedom and preventing gratuitous defamation. The current attempt to take account of the huge changes wrought by internet is, says the centrist paper, both short-sighted and dangerous.

[Looks like we’re going have to be more careful with our criticisms! Ed]