After the brutal attack on the staff of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris yesterday, journalists, cartoonists, politicians and the general public rallied worldwide to defend the freedom of speech. Many a front page of today’s newspapers showed the cartoons for which chief editor Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier) and 11 other were brutally murdered by Said and Cherif Kouachi, two brothers in their early thirties. (A third suspect, the 18 year old Hamyd Mourad says he was at school at the time of the killings, which his classmates confirmed.)
Some media condemned the act itself, yet cropped pictures of Charb holding covers of Charlie Hebdo depicting Muhammad. Among those that blurred or cropped the photos are The Associated Press, The New York Daily News, The Telegraph and the widely influential television station CNN. In an internal memo to the staff senior editorial director Richard Griffiths wrote:
Although we are not at this time showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet considered offensive by many Muslims, platforms are encouraged to verbally describe the cartoons in detail. This is key to understanding the nature of the attack on the magazine and the tension between free expression and respect for religion.
Video or stills of street protests showing Parisians holding up copies of the offensive cartoons, if shot wide, are also OK. Avoid close-ups of the cartoons that make them clearly legible.
It’s also OK to show most of the protest cartoons making the rounds online, though care should be taken to avoid examples that include within them detailed depictions of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
This stance is not only a slap in the face of the victims, but also an assault on the essence of what it takes to live in a free world – summed up in a quote (falsely) attributed to Voltaire:
I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
We must keep defending our convictions firmly and unitedly, and never give in to fear and intimidation. To speak with Hendrik van Randwijk, a Dutch resistance leader in World War II:
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A people that succumbs to tyranny, will lose more than life and goods, it kills the light
The cowardly behaviour of media such as CNN makes for another black page in the history of independent journalism. I sincerely hope they will retrace their steps and publish the full cartoons after all.