PARIS (Reuters) - A barrage of critical world media reporting on the violence in its rundown suburbs is rubbing nerves raw in France, which is more used to hearing praise for its food, its countryside and its opposition to the Iraq war.
In tones ranging from outrage to rueful agreement, French media are now reporting daily on the harsh terms that foreign television stations and newspapers choose to describe the unrest among France's angry youths of Arab and African origin.
France laughed off "freedom fries" -- as French fries were renamed in Washington -- and other anti-French sentiment in the United States at the start of the Iraq war in 2003, but its reaction to the riot reporting carries a between-the-lines admission of hurt pride.
"From Italy to South Africa, Poland to China, from CNN to al-Jazeera, the newspaper headlines and television commentaries set against a background of blazing cars are really hyping it up," the popular daily Le Parisien complained.
The Foreign Ministry has criticised some foreign reports as excessive and at least one cabinet member, Labour Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, has hinted the critical reporting was meant to hit back at France for opposing the U.S.-led Iraq war.
French media have run hard-hitting reports on the riots, just as they have been very critical of social or racial problems abroad. But seeing equally tough reporting about their own country seems to have caught the French off guard.
Eric Raoult, mayor of the eastern Paris suburb of Raincy, did not like being at the receiving end of outside attention.
"Last night, Japanese television and Turkish television were in my city hall telling me what should be done. That hurts me," he said.
While reporting on the hard-hitting coverage in the United States media, one Paris radio station noted with relief a New York Times report saying the city centre was safe for tourists.
BAGHDAD ON THE SEINE
"Fire and blood in France -- at least that's what some foreign media claim is going on," Le Parisien wrote. "Paris is burning, civil war, war zone, race riots -- the headlines, especially on TV, often have no nuance."
The conservative Le Figaro was indignant about the way U.S. media reported from riot-hit areas such as Seine Saint Denis, the rundown area between the capital and its Charles de Gaulle airport to the north.
"American newspapers don't hesitate to compare Paris to Baghdad or Seine Saint Denis to the Gaza Strip and to call the crisis a 'Katrina of social disasters'," an editorial fumed in a reference to the recent hurricane.
Other commentators objected to the way foreign media stress the ethnic backgrounds of the rioters and the racial discrimination they complain about -- issues less prominent here because France officially does not recognise it has minority communities.
CNN, the U.S. satellite channel that Paris would like to launch a French-language channel to compete with, is watched especially carefully for anti-French nuances.
"CNN runs the headline 'French Violence' on its website like it had 'War in Iraq' during the American intervention," Le Monde noted disapprovingly.
The Nouvel Observateur weekly said CNN talked about possible civil war, curfews and deployment of troops -- without mentioning some French politicians were using the same terms.
Fox News, a leading outlet of anti-French sentiment after Paris opposed the Iraq war, was also held up for criticism for broadcasting headlines like "Paris Burning" over a picture of the Eiffel Tower before a wall of flames.
But the critics were not without self-criticism.
Le Figaro said the riots were "too good an opportunity to pass up, an opportunity to mock the country that claims to have invented human rights and that's always ready -- yes, it's true -- to lecture the rest of humanity."