A drawing of the Prophet Muhammad, similar to those which led to the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, responds to the violence against the satirical magazine. Photo credits: Actualitte
Cartoon portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad led to violence Jan. 7 at the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The caricatures, considered blasphemous in the Islamic tradition, incited an attack that left 12 members of the staff dead.
The casualties included writers, illustrators and the magazine’s top editor. Many journalists, cartoonists and advocates for satire and expression have spoken about the necessity of freedom within the press.
Journalist Jeremy Gray worked to share the news of the attack first and foremost. “As part of my job, I post AP’s international news on al.com,” said Gray, a managing producer for the news website.
“I scrambled to compile a photo gallery and wire copy. Once I could pause for a second, I was incredibly sad for the victims and their loved ones.”
UM mass communication professor Randall Scott discussed the importance of the freedoms of the magazine’s creators that were violated, saying “Freedom of press and freedom of expression must include ideas that you disagree with.”
Bruce Finklea, assistant professor of mass communication at the University, spoke of how this was highlighted in the aftermath.
“It has largely turned into a celebration of free speech,” he said. Gray commented on these essential freedoms, and said of his own publication, “We would not exist were we not free to write what we want.”
“Humor has a power to change minds that more conventional forms of journalism might not,” Gray said of the value of satire in the vein of Charlie Hebdo.
Scott added to that point, saying “Satire is essential to keep politicians and religious and business groups in line…The press must keep a close eye on their activities and critique their actions.”
However, Finklea was quick to point out the distinction between straight journalism and satire.
While he referenced the long history newspapers have with publishing satirical comics, Finklea went on to say, “People need to keep in mind that satire and journalism are separate forms of storytelling.”
Scott felt that, while the Charlie Hebdo attack is an example of “obvious danger,” “The greatest problem for journalists is to remain objective…reporters should be watch dogs, not lap dogs or attack dogs.”
Gray mentioned an attack on journalistic freedoms close to home. “Alabama just this week tried to set strict definitions of what a journalist is in order to keep bloggers at bay,” he said, referring to legislature brought by Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) seeking to change the official state definition of a journalist in reference to press privileges in the Alabama House and Senate.
“I don’t worry much about physical dangers,” Gray said. “The thing that concerns me are limits being placed on information that should be readily available to journalists and the rest of the public.”
International responses to the attack continue. Thousands marched in Paris on Jan. 11 in support of press freedoms. In attendance at the march were several world leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Missing from the group was any top-ranking US official, which Finklea believed “very short-sighted of the White House.”
The “survivor’s edition” of Charlie Hebdo hit newsstands Jan. 14, with the Prophet Muhammad on the cover once more. This has led to both the largest print run in the weekly’s history and to violent acts of protest in Niger, Pakistan and Jordan.
In light of the ongoing effects of the attack, Gray said, “We as journalists across the globe share a sense of grief and a resolve to keep doing [our] jobs.”
The Charlie Hebdo attacks were one of the defining moments of 2015. We included the events of Jan. 7 in our “2015 in review” feature, available here.