Je Suis Charlie, I Can Say That..Right?

Posted on May 2, 2015 by


Shots rang out, and France entered a new stage in the war on terror

Events like the Charlie Hebdo attack are covered extensively by media outlets around the world. In a day where everyone is connected through social media and news is shared 160 characters at a time audiences have gained bigger appetites for information and the speed which it is taken in is boggling. The tragic Charlie Hebdo attacks brought a new precedent for how big news is relayed today. With the push for media outlets to provide the latest and greatest news as fast as possible, bias has become ever present within different outlets. With many individuals regarding the Paris attacks as, “France’s 9/11” , identifying the outlets bias and reporting style is key in understanding these events as they quickly boil down to a narrative of “us vs them”, where many people can get caught up in the mix. With the Charlie Hebdo attack the variations in reporting are not in the information about the event, rather distinct differences that primarily revolved around appeal to the readers and what the place for censorship was. One variation lied in how, exactly, the various outlets gave a background of Charlie Hebdo while trying to keep from offending their readers, but still maintaining the primary functions of the media. Keeping these differences about the news sources, their locations and viewer bases in mind it becomes interesting to how the news was broadcast and received around the world and what that theme means for free speech, and the balance of tolerance.

Announcing the attacks the morning of January 7th would be one of the most straight forward parts in covering the attacks. The difficult stage came when it was time to outline what the newspaper had done to provoke the men to carry out their attacks. For the most part news outlets avoided showing the most offensive cartoons from Charlie Hebdo, though a few did not hold the same reservations . All of these together would be criticized by some as a failure in journalism or a show of solidarity, or respect for religion. The key issue that lies here is about none of these things alone, instead it is a mix of how the audiences, or even the staff, receive the information and what that means for the state of Islam in the community and what that means for the aforementioned issues. The Indian paper, Mint, ran images of the attacks and later had to issue apologies to it’s readers. The editor of the Urdu paper Advadhnama was jailed, her paper shut down, and her existence forced underground, even after apologizing to readers through multiple mediums that the initial printing was a mistake. The German paper Hamburger Morgenpost had it’s offices fire-bombed after publishing the images.  US outlets like Gawker, Buzzfeed, and The Daily Beast published the images and NYPD began patrolling around their buildings. Other organizations instead decided to support the fallen with #JeSuisCharlie or black ribbons.  Behind all of this is the about tolerance for Islam and maintaining free speech, and how the world is severely lacking in a middle ground between the two with a solid justification for their actions.

When CNN releases a statement that they will not publish the images out of respect for the religion yet the BBC, regarded as the most trusted news source in the UK published the illustrations of Mohammad, while publications end or a office is set on fire, all as a result of a summary of the events of Jan. 7th, it is hard to say if respect comes from moral duties or originates in fear. When things look darkest the people will often turn to the media for insight, and in a situation like the Charlie attacks media is polarized, and what develops is a tone where not only is the case for Islam up for question but for free speech and their rights. Events like this could be time for an overall “come to Jesus–or Allah” moment. Every major news outlet played videos showing the gunmen unleash gunfire, actual killing, which was deemed less offensive than the crude drawings which sparked the attacks.

For the media who decided to show the images, videos, or added a banner or ribbon what does this mean for free speech and respect for religion? For the papers in India, possibly a step back. More outrage was driven at the editor of Advadhnama than over the events themselves, and when the images of killing offend less people than the cartoons do a re-evaluation needs to occur. If there is going to be sensitivity towards images of Mohammad because a group may be offended, the same discretion needs to be applied to all religions, or not at all. Charlie Hebdo is unique in that they were in the business of offending, not one group had been taken out of the scope. Though the only ones to get up in arms about it were the extremist Muslims. Not a single article sided with Charlie Hebdo in the sense that they agreed with the cartoons, instead it was all based on the principle that free speech has a place and requirement today. We live in an ever connected world. We absorb so much media on a daily basis today that it is impossible to avoid the things that may offend us, and that is something that needs to be understood. In almost every religious text there is in some form a story of turning the other cheek. In an event where those who were offended decided to react rather than resolve, the people who suffered did instead what the extremists should have.

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