Media Watch 8/1/15

By Rowan Williams

Police in France have made seven arrests following a terrorist attack on Wednesday by Islamic extremists in Paris against the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper, that left 12 dead. The two main suspects involved in the attack remain at large, though photos of two brothers believed to be involved have been released by police. One suspect at large, Cherif Kouachi, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2008 for terror offences. On Thursday morning, a gunman is also known to have fired on police before fleeing in the Parisian suburb of Montrouge, though it is not known if this event was related to Wednesday’s attack. President Francois Hollande has held an emergency cabinet meeting in Paris, while free speech rallies showing solidarity with Charlie Hebdo have taken place in Paris and across the world. Security has been increased around public transport hubs, places of worship and media offices across Paris. The attackers are believed to have been acting in revenge for Charlie Hebdo’s publishing of a cartoon of Mohammed in 2011. Eight journalists were among those shot dead in the attack, including prominent cartoonists, while two policemen were killed as the gunman fled the scene by car.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempts to appeal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel appear to have had little effect during Merkel’s visit to Britain for talks on Wednesday. The Prime Minister showed a level of support for the European Union not seen in recent months, while asking for endorsement of calls for a revision of major EU governing treaties before an in-out referendum in 2017. Although Cameron appeared to signal a retreat from previous calls to restrict the freedom of movement into Britain, his appeal failed to sway Chancellor Merkel. At a Downing Street press conference, Chancellor Merkel remarked that Berlin had little desire to change EU treaties to facilitate changing welfare and benefit rules, though suggested legislation for welfare systems that would prevent abuse from freedom of movement. The talks also focused on economic and security issues.

On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged US$250 billion worth of investment in Latin America over the next ten years, as China seeks to improve ties with the region. Leaders of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) convened in Beijing for a two-day forum on Thursday, the first time China has held a gathering from the group. In a speech at the forum, President Xi said that trade between China and Latin America is expected to rise to US$500 billion within ten years. China values Latin America for its natural resources, including metals, oil, and some foodstuffs, as well as for its market potential.

The Papers

Wednesday’s terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris dominates the headlines today. Still images from amateur footage showing the attackers kill a wounded police officer featured heavily on front pages, particularly in the tabloid press. The Daily Telegraph leads with the headline “War on freedom”, featuring pictures of the five cartoonists killed in the attack, writing that the attack is the worst “in a generation” to hit France. The Guardian leads with a quote – “‘An assault on democracy'” – and features an image from a rally in Paris after the attack, writing that free speech rallies occurred “in France and across the world”. The Financial Times leads with news that the gunmen from the attack are still “on the loose”, with President Francois Hollande calling for unity in the face of “‘exceptional barbarity'”. The Independent uses no headline on its front page, opting simply for a cartoon showing a hand rising out of a newspaper and giving a defiant one-fingered gesture while holding a cartoonist’s ink brush.

British Media on China

On the Shanghai stampede on New Year’s Eve: events following on from the stampede in Shanghai that left 36 people dead have continued to appear in the news. The BBC reports that China’s central government “has promised to do more to prevent accidents” following the incident, though points out that the report “did not say what measures would be taken”. A commentary piece in the Financial Times by Patti Waldmeir, meanwhile, stresses that the incident “is not a verdict on the flaws of modern China”, though the accident “reveals something that often feels like a national inferiority complex”. The piece points out that “People get crushed to death in developed countries too” and that the accident should be treated as “just an accident”.

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