Charlie Hebdo: How Journalism Needs to Respond to This Unconscionable attack
By Aidan White / opendemocracy.net

The attack on Charlie Hebdo is the worst case of targeted killings of journalists ever recorded in Europe and is matched only by the massacre five years ago of 32 journalists and other media workers, by 100 armed men who attacked an election convoy in Mindanao in the Philippines.

But the Paris event is not an isolated incident of political barbarism. It is part of a continuing ideological struggle that began almost ten years ago when the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, sparking a global debate over the balancing of religious sensitivities and the right to free expression.

Among the victims at Charlie Hebdo are, cruelly and tragically, the most talented of the magazine’s cartoonists, the men whose work has helped make this satirical title an iconic symbol of dissidence with its impertinent disregard for the social conventions of the French political elite. But poking fun at western politics, where free speech includes the right to be offensive, even insulting, is far less dangerous than challenging the authority of ideology based upon fanatical attachment to religious dogma.

When the Mohammed cartoons crisis broke out in January 2006 (they were first published in Denmark in September 2005), western media were divided on how to respond. Some republished the cartoons, to show solidarity in the face of a backlash involving Muslim extremists against Danish journalists. Some editors felt to do so would be insensitive to Muslim readers—but many more succumbed to self-censorship, amid widespread threats of violence.

Uncompromising

Charlie Hebdo is a voice of uncompromising opposition to censorship in any form. It had already had a taste of what that can mean when dealing with religious extremists. In 2011 its offices were firebombed after it announced its intention to have a special issue with the Prophet Mohammed as guest ‘editor-in-chief’.

Thankfully no one was killed. But the warning was clear. Many at the time were nervous about the stance being taken. Wasn’t the magazine being unnecessarily provocative? There were fears that it was attention-seeking rather than promoting a debate about the need for free speech.

All of that is put into a fresh perspective by this latest attack. The slaughter of journalists in their own newsroom is unconscionable and intolerable and can never be excused.

The attack also highlights just how vulnerable journalists and other media staff can be when they actively defend free speech against corruption and violent extremism in all its forms. In 2014 many journalists were targeted and killed—according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 died; according to Reports Without Borders, the toll is 66. Even if the detail is unclear, journalism remains a high-risk business, with reporters and editors routinely threatened and subject to violence for exposing crime, corruption and political malpractice.

Hate speech

This appalling event on the streets of Paris will inevitably spark a new debate about free speech and religious intolerance and we can expect more hate-speech—particularly from the right of European politics—aiming to make political capital out of understandable public anger and outrage. But journalists must know better than to give voice to fresh acts of hatred and particularly Islamophobia. The story of the Paris atrocity and its origins as it unfolds over the coming days needs to be handled with sensitivity and care, and journalists must do everything they can to lower the temperature and avoid providing cover for abusive treatment or acts of discrimination against members of Muslim communities.

'Charb', editor of the magazine

The magazine editor, 'Charb', was among the dead. Demotix / infosart. All rights reserved

This is a time for ‘slow’ journalism, when everyone in media—and even those would-be journalists outside the newsroom—needs to think carefully about the consequences of what they write and the images they show. Within minutes of the Paris shootings, a video was being circulated online showing the point-blank execution of a police officer. It should never have been shown and never shared.

The colleagues who died at Charlie Hebdo were not champions of violence or hatred. Indeed, the magazine has always used its creative power in words and images to show that politics can and should be fought on a level platform, in which respect for pluralism means that all opinions—even those with which one strongly disagrees—have the right to be heard. And no one, least of all those who trade in murder and inhumanity, has a right to say otherwise.


About the author

Aidan White is the founding director of theEthical Journalism Network, an international coalition of media professional groups campaigning to strengthen the craft of journalism. He launched the network in 2012 after 24 years as general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists. Its programme this year includes support for journalists in the Middle East, Africa and Asia and two multi-country investigations, on corruption in journalism and the effectiveness of media self-regulation

4.3 ·
2
What's Next
Trending Today
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 9,328 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
Van Jones: Only a 'Love Army' Will Conquer Trump
Tim Dickinson · 7,943 views today · Though it's important to fight Trump's policies, "it's at the values level that we need to do a reset," says Jones
The Problem with Hating Our Enemies
Charles Eisenstein · 6,865 views today · He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee. —Nietzsche
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 6,602 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 5,986 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 5,824 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
How to Expose Trump's Dastardly Bait-And-Switch
Robert Borosage · 5,401 views today · Trump is not an economic populist, he’s just playing one on TV.
10 Stunning Images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award
Natural History Museum · 5,329 views today · These incredible images are a selection from of the 25 shortlisted by The Natural History Museum for the People's Choice Award from this year's Wildlife Photographer of the...
David Graeber: We Need a Revolution in the Way We Think about "Work"
4 min · 2,632 views today · David Graeber on the Value of Work. Does the world really need neuroadvertisers, PR researchers and branding consultants? Renowned academic and coiner of the ‘we are the 99%’...
Why You Should Stop Apologizing for Doing All That You Can
Kelly Hayes · 2,340 views today · I’ve noticed lately that a lot of allies and accomplices I talk to about NoDAPL and other struggles will name what they are trying to contribute to the cause, and then promptly...
A New History for Humanity - the Human Era
8 min · 2,065 views today · It is time to reframe how we think about our past. We need a new year 0 for humanity. But which one should we choose and why?
Trump: The Illusion of Change
Helena Norberg-Hodge · 1,947 views today · “Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.” — Wendell Berry
Seven Must-Have Skills for the 21st Century
Tommy Lehe · 1,693 views today · We live in a world that moves faster than we do. Trying to keep up can be an overwhelming task that at times feels hopeless, like we are falling further and further behind—but...
15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like Shit
Maritsa Patrinos · 1,395 views today · You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,358 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Black on Black Crime Isn't a Myth
Donyae Coles · 1,353 views today · Let’s talk about Black on Black crime. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news, specifically likely in regards to Black people murdered by other Black people. Perhaps you’ve...
Asylum-Seeker Faces a Dangerous Deportation Back to Afghanistan
3 min · 1,270 views today · After an EU deal with Afghanistan, more than 80,000 rejected Afghan asylum-seekers are facing deportation back to that country. Alim says being sent back to Afghanistan could...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,218 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
It's The Damn Police
Walter Fields · 1,152 views today · From an early age Blacks are socialized to live defensively and to absorb the mental body blows that come from the day-to-day indignities that are hoisted upon us by the very...
There Is No One Right Way to Be an Activist
Tim Hjersted · 761 views today · There is no one right way to be an activist. There is no one right way to change the world. There is no one right philosophy of leftist politics. There is no one right reaction...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Charlie Hebdo: How Journalism Needs to Respond to This Unconscionable attack