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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 February 2006, 06:41 GMT
European press review

Thursday's papers continue to debate the furore over the publication of satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish daily that have caused an outcry across the Islamic world.

US President George W. Bush's State of the Union address receives mixed reviews and the EU's new communication strategy gets short shrift in two dailies.

Cartoon row

Several European newspapers defend the publication of the controversial cartoons in the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, arguing that freedom of expression should not bow to religious dogma in the secular West. Others, however, warn of the potential to offend.

When a society allows itself to be guided only by the 'feelings' of a group of people, then it is no longer free
Der Tagesspiegel

Germany's Der Tagesspiegel, which yesterday reprinted some of the cartoons, describes Muslim outrage sparked by the cartoons as "excessive".

Religious groups should not be allowed to define the limits of free speech, it feels.

"When a society allows itself to be guided only by the 'feelings' of a group of people, then it is no longer free."

It argues that in democratic societies the power to define the meaning of decency and respect cannot be left to a religious community alone.

Switzerland's Le Temps agrees.

"Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are fundamental assets of democratic societies," it says, adding that "the latter must not yield to demands which jeopardize hard-won principles".

It would make sense to have a debate about the freedom of speech and religious feelings in an international forum
Der Standard

It argues that while religions deserve respect, it would be "dangerous" to regard this as a reason to curb freedoms.

"Confusing respect for a religion with assenting to its principles would amount to undermining the secular foundation on which democratic societies are built," the paper says.

Another German daily, Die Tageszeitung, which also reprinted the cartoons, says the media are "of course" entitled to subject religious symbols to satirical treatment.

"In a democratic and secular society, showing decency and respect for other cultures does not mean adopting their religious dogmas," the paper says.

But the paper adds that there are good reasons to regard some of the cartoons in question as "tasteless".

"Above all," it says, "in view of the current political situation in Denmark, they are a statement by the majority society vis-a-vis the Muslim minority in the country - a statement which can in fact be interpreted as racist."

Austria's Der Standard also condemns the decision of the Danish daily to publish the cartoons as "foolish and insensitive".

But it too believes that the reaction of the Muslim world has been "alarmingly excessive".

"Perhaps it would actually make sense to have a debate about the freedom of speech and religious feelings in an international forum," it suggests, "but also about the fact that no understanding will be shown for extremely exaggerated reactions if offence may have been caused."

Bush's speech

Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau says Mr Bush's annual address was marked by a "new realism" in US foreign policy.

The daily believes that Mr Bush's plans to reduce the country's reliance on oil are symptomatic of the "new limits" to his ability to act.

"Bush has understood the danger, but either he no longer has the power or still lacks the will to bring about radical change in the field of energy," it says.

The Hungarian Nepszabadsag praises the US president for looking beyond the era of gas and oil and for his courage to announce costly research programmes in an election year.

The modesty of his proposals is a spectacular contrast to the ambition and confidence of the 2003 and 2004 versions
Le Monde

"Whatever people think of Bush - and they do think all kinds of things - it has turned out again that there are wise people in the White House working on maintaining America's leading position" in the world, the paper says.

But France's Le Monde is unimpressed by the address made by a "weakened Bush".

"The modesty of his proposals is a spectacular contrast to the ambition and confidence of the 2003 and 2004 versions," the paper says.

It was realism that predominated, it says, singling out the president's promise of funds for nuclear and renewable energy research as the most interesting part of the speech.

According to the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes, Bush's warning about the USA's dependence on oil was the only important message in the speech.

Propaganda channel

Germany's Die Welt believes that a new communications strategy presented by the European Commission yesterday in a bid to improve the EU's image is doomed to failure.

"State-subsidised EU palaver in pubs and at information stalls, an EU propaganda channel and scores of prominent goodwill-envoys will not improve Europe's reputation," the paper says.

It argues that the European Union will only win over people's hearts and minds if it cuts down on red tape and concentrates on growth and jobs.

Austria's Die Presse is alarmed at the proposals for an EU television channel and news agency.

The paper says in principle there is a need for a new strategy because it is difficult to explain complex EU decisions to most citizens.

"But the means of dissemination which people are beginning to think about in this case amount to an attempt at a media dictatorship," it says.

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.





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