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French press review 27 November 2017

Analysis of the complex political situation in the Middle East. The harsh facts about poverty in France. Celebration of a French victory in the Davis Cup tennis competition. And a look at the way human beings estimate the seriousness of catastrophes.


On the front pages:

  • Le Figaro looks at how Iran is slowly but surely expanding its regional power base in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, making the simmering conflict between Tehran and Riyadh ever more dangerous;
  • Le Monde's electronic edition celebrates last night's French victory in the Davis Cup tennis final;
  • Left-leaning Libération looks at the plight of some poor children in French schools, clearly living in difficult home conditions, many undernourished. Some teachers are obliged to take the responsibility of looking after these children who have been, according to Libé, abandonned by the authorities.

In contemporary France, where one child in 10 is living in conditions of extreme poverty and where many of the social assistants supposed to look after their welfare are already submerged by an impossible workload, the school is the solution of last resort.

Libération reports from Lyon, France's second largest city, where at least 220 schoolchildren are currently living rough. As the winter deepens, the schools are in the frontline, organising accommodation, collecting clothes, money and food for the benefit of families reduced to living in cars, squats or, in the worst cases, on the city's pavements.

Last year, one Lyon school spent 6,000 euros of its own funds to pay for the emergency hotel accommodation of the families of some of its worst-off children. Others have been forced to turn classrooms into dormitories.

All men are equal but some are more equal than others

Right wing Le Figaro carries an opinion piece looking at the way we, the public, perceive tragedies. They quote former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to the effect that the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of a million men is simply a statistic.

The fact that not all deaths are equal is well-known to economists, insurance companies and journalists.

Journalism students are all taught the cynical "distance-death" rule by which the news value of an individual death increases the closer it is to the newspaper reader or television watcher.

A classic recent example was the European reaction to the March 2015 Germanwings aircraft crash in which a mentally unstable copilot caused the deaths of 150 passengers and crew by deliberately crashing the plane into the French Alps. A few days later, an Islamist terror group murdered 147 students at the University of Garrissa in Kenya, an event virtually ignored by the European media.

Even in the modern era of the global village, the equation between news value and closeness remains valid, says Le Figaro.

The way we estimate risk is also related to the way we receive the news, with huge but virtually unrepeatable catastrophes having more of an impact on our idea of danger than the simple, everyday events that are far more likely to kill us.

Everyone is shocked by a train or plane accident involving hundreds of dead. We are less shocked by the hundreds who die on Europe's roads every weekend simply because the horror is spread out over a wider territory, Le Figaro says.

What price greater security on the roads?

The question has very real implications for the way investments in security are calculated.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the authorities calculate the value of one human life lost in an accident involving public transport as the equivalent of five lives in private cars.

And that sort of logic leads to questions like, how much would it cost to make road transport as safe as flying? A fortune is the simple answer and neither the manufacturers nor the governments who tax them and their products want to know.

The World Health Organisation already has the statistics, and they are shocking: 3,000 people die every day on the planet's roads, most of them in the poorest countries. Last year's 102 air crashes killed a total of 629 people.

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