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French press review 31 October 2013

French hostages and the question of ransom payments are this morning's main topics.

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The four men held prisoner by the north African branch of Al-Qaida for the past three years are now back with their families. Behind the joy and the smiles must be the question of how you learn to live nomally again after 1,000 days in captivity.

Dossier: War in Mali

There is also the fact that seven French hostages remain in the hands of their captors, four in Syria, the others in Mali and Nigeria, and their fates are clearly not unrelated to what has happened this week in Niger.

So, was a ranson paid or was it not?

We are unlikely ever to know for sure.

The respected and respectable French daily Le Monde and the AFP press agency say that 20-25 million euros was paid to secure the release of the four hostages. Le Monde says the money came from a secret account used by national intelligence services.

Yesterday tabloid newspaper Aujourd'hui en France said they believed that Areva, the electricity company for which the men work, wrote to the French authorities, saying the company would pay whatever it took to free the four employees.

Last night on national television Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius denied that any public money had been paid.

In a front-page editorial, Le Figaro says France has been paying for hostage release since the presidency of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1975, when 10 million francs were handed over to free an ethnologist captured in Chad by one Hissène Habré, who went on to govern the country.

The right-wing paper says that it is German and Italian government money, paid for hostages from those two countries, that has financed the growth of Al-Qaida in Islamic north Africa from a gang of fanatics in sandals to a serious small army.

Le Figaro wonders if the lack of a clear policy in Paris, or rather the claim to have a policy to which events repeatedly give the lie, is not a danger to France and to every French citizen.

The French business community has just struggled through a catastrophic summer and now faces a murderous autumn. That's according to the main headline in Le Figaro, which gloomily promises three months of bankruptcies and sackings at the level of the worst of the crisis, back in 2009.

The main problem is the cost of labour, seen by Figaro as killing French industrial competitiveness. For companies without an export division, thus forced to depend on the contracting local market, the signs are not good.

There's trouble at the national television company, too.

According to business paper Les Echos, the alarm bells are ringing at the national broadcaster, where audiences are in decline, and discontent is raging. France Télévisions is under attack from the government's audiovisual authority, politicians, trade unions and workers in the TV sector.

More government control is likely to be put in place. Better programmes might seem a more reasonable response to the crisis.

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