Charlie Hebdo row: Cartoons divide French press

Many French newspapers have rushed to the defence of Charlie Hebdo after the weekly satirical paper published cartoons showing the Prophet Muhammad.

Others, however, accuse the paper of acting irresponsibly in the current context and run front-page headlines warning of the consequences.

'Sacred right'

A front-page editorial in the centre-left daily Le Monde says the "fundamental" principle of freedom of expression outweighs any other concerns, including religious ones.

The fact that religions may be subjected not just to criticism but also to ridicule has been "clear since Voltaire", it says.

"Whatever people may think of Charlie Hebdo's editorial choices... the only conceivable limit to its freedom is that which the courts might judge to be justified," the paper concludes.

The left-leaning Liberation takes a similar stand, asking "Blasphemy - a sacred right?" in its front-page headline.

"Appealing to the sense of responsibility of cartoonists, asking them to think twice before publishing, exhorting them to take into account the geopolitical context as if they were the foreign ministry spokesperson means getting caught up in a cycle whose first stage is self-censorship and the last, capitulation," an editorial by Nicolas Demorand warns.

An editorial in the regional daily L'Est Republicain insists that "the freedom of expression suffers no exception" other than the limits imposed by the law.

Ivan Drapeau in La Charente Libre ventures that Charlie Hebdo "has not broken the law, has not disturbed public order, has not incited to hatred or discrimination and has not undermined respect for people".

'Playing with fire'

Other papers emphasise the need to act responsibly.

A front-page editorial by Yves Threard published by the centre-right daily Le Figaro says publishing such cartoons is "as easy as it is irresponsible". Resorting to "silly provocations" to respond to Islamists' attempts at intimidation means "falling into their trap", the paper judges.

A commentary by the writer Jean-Fran├žois Bouthors in the best-selling regional daily Ouest France warns that "claiming to defend the freedom of expression by in turn engaging in a game of contempt, sarcasm and stigmatisation is very wrong".

The Sud Ouest runs the front-page banner headline "'Charlie Hebdo' plays with fire" and reports "indignation and concern" in France after the publication of the cartoons "in a context which is already highly charged".

The Journal du Centre asks, "Are these some cartoons too many?"

The Roman Catholic daily La Croix runs a front-page editorial headlined "Proof by provocation", in which Dominique Quinio argues that "editorial responsibility requires an assessment of the consequences of what one publishes" and that "fuelling the flames to show one's noble resistance to extremism leads to offending simple believers".

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