Twelve people died at the hands of three men at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris yesterday, and the journalistic world has stood up in solidarity. Well, some of it has.
Numerous publications have taken the subversive response to the shootings in Paris by either republishing Charlie Hebdo cartoons, or creating and publishing some subversive images of their own. Mainstream outlets have taken the cowardly position by outright refusing to publish anything they feel will be offensive. This includes CNN, The New York Times, and the Associated Press, among others.
However, there are a lot of moving parts to this issue. Publications like Charlie Hebdo, Mint (India), Berliner Kurier (Germany), and L’Echo (France) have either an established satirical voice, or are highbrow sources with highbrow subjects. For instance, Mint is targeted at business executives. Tabloid-like satire is the wheelhouse of some of these publications, but not others. However, they didn’t, and shouldn’t, recoil in fear of retaliation after publishing offensive images of the Prophet Muhammad.
Western mainstream news sources are a different side of the same coin. Big-name new outlets stayed away from the satirical approach that other publications chose. That’s fine. Vitriolic and ultra-subversive satire is not what the NYT, CNN, and the AP have built their reputations upon, fair enough. However, they did build their reputations on unsparing, honest reporting. Therein lies the rub.
Because large news corporations have flatout said they will either censor or not publish Charlie Hebdo images, they are deluding straightforward news coverage. They are giving into the implied and spoken demands of the three gunmen: “Don’t publish, or else.”
These agencies don’t want to publish the images in a satirical vein, and that’s okay. But don’t weaken the reporting with fear-fueled self-censorship. Show the people the images that caused the uproar and move on to the other 4 W’s of news. There’s a lot of ground in between celebrating the images and censoring them.
Michael Luciano of The Daily Banter beautifully describes this problem:
The problem with the mainstream press not showing “offensive” cartoons isn’t just that it’s cowardly, but that it cultivates and even encourages an atmosphere in which attacks like Paris slaughter can occur. By shielding viewers from unflattering images of Islam’s sacred cows, the media establishes censorship as the norm. Thus, when a media organization bucks the trend, it stands out as brilliantly as a red cape in a bullring.
Now, do these publications have the right to censor themselves and chose what or what not to say? Absolutely. That is free speech at it’s very essence. But engaging is such self-censorship abandons everything that journalism is supposed to stand for.
The news corporations have the absolute right not to publish the Charlie Hebdo images, or any other images for that matter. However, there is a difference between our rights and our responsibilities.