“News Media Have a Duty to Publish Controversial Cartoons”

Today, Atheist Freethinkers published a press release explaining why the media should publish the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons:

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For immediate release
News Media Have a Duty to Publish Controversial Cartoons

Montreal, February 24th 2015 — Atheist Freethinkers (LPA-AFT), an association which promotes secularism and supports the rights of atheists, denounces the odious attacks which claimed the lives of two innocent people on February 14th and 15th in Copenhagen and which constitutes, like the Paris attacks in early January, a violation of the fundamental freedoms of every human being, in particular freedom of conscience, and was perpetrated in the name of Islamist extremism. The association simultaneously denounces the cowardice and lack of integrity of several news media – for example most English-language newspapers in Canada – which refused and continue to refuse to publish the cartoons which the murderers used, in both cases, as an excuse for their crimes.

Several journalists have written articles in which they unscrupulously repeat the false notion that these cartoons are all “offensive” and their articles have been published without the cartoons, thus depriving readers of information which is essential for a full understanding of events. The two Charlie Hebdo cartoons which are crucial for this controversy – a cover image published during the Danish cartoon crisis and the cover of the first issue to appear following the attack of January 7th – insult neither Muslims, nor Muhammad, nor Islam. (Both cartoons are available on the association’s web site.) On the contrary, they display a sympathetic image of Muhammad who is shown criticizing the violent acts of fundamentalist extremists and feeling compassion for the victims.

If this is provocation, then it is the most salutary and constructive form of provocation possible. By failing to display these cartoons while conveying a false impression of their content, news media thus facilitate the manipulations of imams who dictate to the Muslim public that they have a religious obligation to feel offended.

The goal of the authors of these attacks is to suppress all criticism of their religion. But we have not only a right to criticize ideas and ideologies, including religions, indeed we have a duty to do so. That duty belongs especially to journalists. Wide distribution of the cartoons accompanied by objective discussion of their content would greatly reduce the risk for each publisher and would constitute a first small step in that direction, a task which nevertheless appears to be beyond the competence of some.

The Copenhagen events also remind us of the necessity of repealing article 296 of the Criminal Code of Canada which criminalizes “blasphemy.” It is also important to remove paragraph 319(3)(b) of the Code which grants impunity to religions with respect to hate propaganda because religions, despite their pretensions, are not the principal targets but rather the principal instigators of hatred – hatred of nonbelievers, of Jews, of members other religions, of homosexuals, of women, etc.

10 thoughts on ““News Media Have a Duty to Publish Controversial Cartoons”

  1. Veronica,

    I sent you examples of the really offensive cartoons that most people object to. Why don’t you post them on Canadian Atheist so everyone is properly informed?

    • Larry,

      I still have the copy of the cartoon you sent me; however, I can’t publish it including a source for the image.

      The cartoon is not at the centre of any news story as far as I know.

  2. I am of two minds on this, but I think I agree. This is an important news story and part of the news is the content of the cartoons. People deserve to know what the fuss is about. A legitimate journalistic reason for publishing an image is a full defence to any offence individuals might take to the image itself.

    Perhaps a good example is prince Harry wearing a Nazi costume for Halloween several years ago. This is certainly offensive to most people and for good reason. The story could easily have been told without showing the image, which would have prevented many from seeing an offensive image. But it was relevant, the image provides more information and context than describing it could. Of course the analogy falls short, no matter how offensive you find this, it is different than publishing an image that millions believe is a harm in and of itself. No journalistic purpose can excuse this sacrilege for a believer, and we shouldn’t expect it to, unless they change their beliefs. Publishing the image would do little if anything to change these beliefs, I’d guess.

    The other thing that gives me pause is a safety issue. I am scared of these people and even though I use a pseudonym, I am too scared to put these images in my blog.

    I think it is understandable that, given a publication that was targeted and supposedly was being protected, suffered this attack, that other publications weigh the safety of their employees against the journalistic value of publishing. Publications have a duty to not endanger their workers as well.

    I think there are other options. One would be to make it very clear that you are not refraining from publishing the images because if reverence or respect, but out of fear. And get on a high horse about it. Publish something else. A blank cover, or a huge “censored” image. Do it a lot.

  3. Some of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo do make fun of Muhammud in a sexual way. However,
    — As far as I know none of them was on the cover.
    — Charlie Hebdo’s irreverent sexual cartoons target Christianity far more often than Islam.
    — The two cartoons mentioned in the press release were at the centre of the controversy, they were cover images, and they did not insult islam.

    • Almost all of the people calling for the cartoons to be published refer to the most innocuous cartoons—the ones on the cover of Charlie Hebdo. Why not show the really obnoxious ones if you want to provide context?

      I strongly suspect that those calling for publication haven’t read the magazine and don’t know about the inside cartoons.

      • I have two basic reactions to this discussion, and they kind of point in opposite directions.

        First, I don’t entirely buy into the argument that seeing a cartoon or other image that has become the subject of controversy is really “essential for a full understanding of events”, as the press release quoted in the post puts it. In most cases it should be possible to describe the controversial aspects of a picture, and convey a clear understanding of why people are getting worked up about it, without printing the picture itself.

        But second, I wish newspapers and other media outlets would be less squeamish about what they publish in general. In an age when the most graphic imagery is within easy reach of anyone who can type a few well-chosen words into the search engine of his or her choice, it’s a bit silly to pretend that the reading public are wide-eyed innocents in need of being protected from a few raunchy cartoons (or whatever).

        So I don’t think the mainstream media should exactly feel obligated to publish things like the Charlie Hebdo cartoons when they become central to a news story, but I do think refusing to publish them on the grounds of offensiveness (as opposed to other considerations such as space constraints or, as Veronica mentioned, simple aesthetics) is a bit prissy and Victorian.

  4. Larry

    The cartoon you sent me (http://is.gd/KSo0PH) is aesthetically displeasing and certainly won’t be published on Canadian Atheist under my name.

  5. This website is full of contradictions…

    From Indi’s “The Canadian English-language news media has betrayed Charlie Hebdo, again” article:

    “That’s why the CBC’s decision [to not publish some images] is not just cowardly, but disgustingly offensive. It’s all about the killers and those who agree with the killers’ opinions… with not a thought spared to the victims or their supporters. The murders happened specifically because of a desire to prevent those cartoons from being publicized… the cartoonists died specifically because of a desire to publicize those cartoons… CBC – and all those news outlets who made the same decision – are thumbing their nose at the victims and kowtowing to the wishes of their murderers. You disgust me, CBC.”

    From the above article:
    “The goal of the authors of these attacks is to suppress all criticism of their religion. But we have not only a right to criticize ideas and ideologies, including religions, indeed we have a duty to do so. That duty belongs especially to journalists. Wide distribution of the cartoons accompanied by objective discussion of their content would greatly reduce the risk for each publisher and would constitute a first small step in that direction, a task which nevertheless appears to be beyond the competence of some.”

    Why would should the images not be published here?

    • This website is full of contradictions…

      We are large, we contain multitudes – and incidentally, our name is Legion.

      Which is to say, there are several writers who contribute to this blog, and naturally we don’t always agree. Speaking for myself, I don’t see publishing the cartoons as a matter of huge urgency – they’re not hard to find elsewhere, and there are plenty of other battles to fight and things to discuss. However, it’s only fair to point out that Indi did include a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of Mohammed in the post of his that you mentioned, a decision that I applaud.

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