Charlie Hebdo events draw attention to issue of self-censorship
The killing of 12 people at the office of Charlie Hebdo led to a debate regarding censorship. The satirical French magazine that published controversial depictions of the Prophet Muhammad has angered some Muslims. Other media outlets around the world are trying to decide whether they should reproduce the covers, or censor them out of respect for Muslims. It raises the question: can the media uphold free speech rights and be respectful at the same time?
Editors have to make a choice whether to self-censor or not
After the slaughter of 12 people as the result of the controversial Charlie Hebdo magazine covers, editors must decide whether to censor images or fight against self-censorship. According to Mashable, numerous publications have opted to censor the images. Similar images had previously caused controversy and led to a firebomb attack in 2011.
Because depicting the likeness of Muhammad is known to upset Muslims, many media outlets opt to not reproduce such images. The decision to self-censor is seen by some to be in the interest of safety as well as respect. However, some journalists and free speech campaigners have criticized the move.
Mashable noted that BuzzFeed, Politico, the Associated Press, the New York Daily News and the Telegraph all continue to censor or crop the controversial images that show cartoons of the Prophet.
What started in Denmark has become a global censorship issue
While many publishers in Western countries chose to self-censor and avoid being targeted by Islamic militants, French magazine Charlie Hebdo chose to do the opposite. The magazine regularly publishes cartoons that make fun of Islam, as well as Judaism and Christianity – basically any organized religion.
The Washington Post noted that recent events can be seen as the aftermath of the publication of anti-Muslim cartoons in 2006 by a Danish newspaper. While many publications were fearful, the French newspaper reacted by republishing the cartoons. As a result, gunmen shouting "Allahu Akbar" invaded the offices of Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people, including editor Stéphane Charbonnier and the police officers who tried to defend him.
"I am Charlie" or "I am Ahmed"
Some see the recent attack as a direct challenge to the West's commitment to protect free speech rights. Others see the publication of the cartoons as disrespectful. On social media, many people changed their status to "I am Charlie" in solidarity with the French magazine. Others changed their status to "I am Ahmed," the name of one of the policemen that was killed defending Charbonnier. It is interesting that the people who changed their status to "I am Ahmed" claim that while they do not support insulting people's faith or offending the culture of others, they do support defending free speech rights. Ahmed is seen as a symbol of a more moderate Islam, and perhaps a middle ground in the argument regarding media censorship. It is possible that one can stand for free speech and still want to be respectful at the same time.