French president talks to Putin, faces media troubles
French President Emmanuel Macron held a special security meeting, spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and convened his Cabinet for the first time Thursday — all under a growing cloud of concern that his office is trying to control the press.
The new French government, which was appointed Wednesday, is a carefully calibrated balance of 22 prominent and unknown figures from the left and the right, half of them women. They arrived for their first meeting Thursday with smiles, posing for photographs on the front porch of the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris.
After the meeting, Macron talked by phone with Putin about possible cooperation on international issues, including the fight against terrorism. The Kremlin said the two voiced readiness to develop their nations' "traditionally friendly" economic, political and cultural ties.
Macron has previously taken a firm stance against Russia's actions in Ukraine and Syria.
Macron also held a defense council meeting with the defense minister and the military chiefs to focus on security issues. France remains under a state of emergency, and under threat from Islamic extremists, since attacks in November 2015 left 130 people dead around Paris.
During the Cabinet meeting, Macron called on his ministers to have the "necessary discipline" and "solidarity" despite their sometimes stark political differences, government spokesman Christophe Castaner said. In keeping with Macron's independent centrist line and his goal of reshaping French politics, his ministers include both Socialists and conservatives.
Castaner, a Socialist who joined Macron's movement last year, said "our political background will not prevent us from working smartly for France."
Meanwhile, tensions have arisen over Macron's policies about media access, recalling similar conflicts over the coverage of Donald Trump's presidency in the U.S.
Some French political reporters said Macron's office called their offices to designate specific journalists who will be able to cover Macron's first trip outside Europe, scheduled in Mali on Friday.
In the past, French media would decide themselves who to send on presidential trips.
Castaner said he wasn't aware of this specific issue but tried to reassure reporters, explaining there's a need to physically limit the number of journalists during certain visits.
"As you've seen during the campaign, the presence of 50 journalists and a dozen (television) cameras can affect direct dialogue and discussions that the president has with the French people," he said. "It's not about controlling. It's not about imposing anything."
Castaner said he and the president are committed to letting journalists do their jobs.
Reporters without Borders denounced the new French government's "concerning signal to the press."
Christophe Deloire, the secretary general of the organization, said "it's not the Elysee's role to select journalists during official visits," adding that "this system could be used as a means of pressure."
"To limit the number of journalists during an event has nothing to do with selecting a cast of the journalists allowed to cover the presidency's visits," Deloire said. "That's an illegitimate interference of political power."
France is ranked 39th in the 2017 world press freedom index by the NGO.
Also Thursday, for the first time in years, the Elysee courtyard was closed to media following the Cabinet meeting. Castaner said the closure wasn't aimed at controlling the government's image but rather was a one-time event because the ministers needed to take an official photograph.
He said the press will be allowed to attend the end of future Cabinet meetings and question the ministers in the Elysee courtyard starting next week.
Thursday's Cabinet meeting was largely about getting to know each other. The government is led by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, a conservative. The most senior Cabinet job, interior minister, went to Gerard Collomb, 69, the long-time Socialist mayor of Lyon who played a key role in Macron's presidential bid.
The armed forces are now led by centrist, pro-European Sylvie Goulard, 52.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, 69, the previous defense minister, stays on in the new government as foreign minister and Europe minister.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.News - French president talks to Putin, faces media troubles