It has been a little over a month since the attack on the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Which saw the killing of 12 journalists in a massacre over a matter of freedom of speech. After the massacre the magazine released the phrase “Je Suis Charlie” on their website. This phrase, meaning, “I am Charlie,” was soon spread all over Twitter, and from there was shared over every major social media platform. The significance of the phrase is not only to empathize with the situation, but to bring attention to the issue of freedom of speech and expression in journalism.
Journalism is often referred to as the “Fourth Estate,” in that the press is supposed to keep the three other estates in check, without allowing powerful factions to dominate control over the democracy that is the press. This term was established centuries ago in Europe, when there was still the traditional three estates: nobility, clergy and commoners. In the United States there is a misconception that the press is referred to as the “fourth branch.” Saying this indicates that the press is associated with the government, but that is not the case. The press is referred to as the “fourth estate,” rather than the “fourth branch,” as the press is independent of the government.
Essentially, the press helps to shape public opinion by presenting nothing but the unbiased facts. That being said, journalism can come in many forms, including opinion and satire, like the case at Charlie Hebdo. Those two styles are the styles that most people disagree the most with.
The fact of the matter is that Charlie Hebdo, in a satirical way, offended Muslims. However, they were not the only targets; the newspaper targeted Christians, Jews and political leaders. Of all the religions mocked, why did the Muslims lash out? It came down to being threatened by free speech.
Not all countries respect the freedom of speech and expression, lik the US and many European countries do. Some countries, depending on their government and religious structure, are highly against freedom of speech and will often show violence towards anyone who violates it.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, compiled by the United Nations, states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” It is fair to say that as long as you are part of this global society, your opinions should be allowed to be shared and respected.
But there is a double-edged sword when it comes to freedom of expression. Some argue that it should not be without consequences. The work Charlie Hebdo produced may have been in a distasteful manner, but journalists everywhere, at both Charlie Hebdo and worldwide, should be able to express themselves and challenge authority without being killed. Killing is never an acceptable consequence.
That is why journalism is considered a rather dangerous, and borderline heartless profession. Many journalists put the story before anything else, while often challenging their own morals and the ethics. Is it worth getting the story if it means being any less of a human being? This seems to be the main argument in the journalism world, especially if reporting on breaking news. Bottom line, the profession is difficult to do. You have to morally deal with trying to invade people’s privacy, but then when you do not, they become offended that you excluded them from the story. There is no way to win.
“Je Suis Charlie” opened up the world’s eyes to exactly what limits a journalist has. In a world where it seems they have none, covering everything from the Boston Marathon Bombing to the transition of Bruce Jenner, the world finally sees the effect freedom of speech has on different people around the world.
The question then remains: Who is really to blame? The satirical journalists, or the killers? Some will argue for either side, saying that what the journalists did was offensive to the Muslim population, while others will say that the Muslims were wrong in killing some of the only people responsible for bringing us the truth.
While some think there is a clear answer, it may not be the correct answer for the parts of the world that do not honor free speech. We are fortunate that our government gives us the ability to practice freedom of speech and expression. If this tragedy taught us anything, it is that it is up to us to determine what the limit for free speech is, both as consumers of information and journalists.