Journalists worldwide face real dangers every day, and the Charlie Hebdo attack last month in Paris is an egregious example, according to speakers at a recent freedom of speech symposium at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Every week, two or three journalists are killed for what they say, said Marty Steffens, journalism professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. She was leading a group of Missouri School of Journalism students into Paris the day of the attack and spoke at the Nous Sommes Tous Charlie event Feb. 3 in Columbia, Missouri.

“Freedom of the press is not an abstract concept,” Steffens said. “This happens every week in the world for what they might say, what they might do.”

Joining Steffens on stage was Aidan White, director of the Ethical Journalism Network, which promotes ethical conduct in media across the globe. He said media is at the very center of international and national struggles.

“Using media as a powerful weapon has never been greater, and the technical revolution is one reason for that,” he said.

While there’s a debate whether ethics can be applied to satire, the Hebdo incident brings up the issues of free speech and hate speech. White outlined a five-point test for determining hate speech from an ethical standpoint: speaker status, reach of speaker, goals of speech, the content itself and context.

White said it’s not hate speech when it’s tiny Charlie Hebdo. On the contrary, he said, we should have pause when one of the most popular cable networks in the U.S. airs inflammatory comments. He played a clip from Fox News Channel’s Justice with Judge Jeanine Pirro in reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Another speaker was Kalil Bendib,a political cartoonist who claims a unique perspective on the Paris event. He is as an Algerian-born Muslim who has lived in both France and the U.S. He compared free speech to French Gruyere cheese, which is much like Swiss cheese: “Freedom of the press in France is delicious, but it is full of holes.”

The holes are a schizophrenic identity, he said, one that focuses on the universal values of the enlightenment while rarely acknowledging its deprivations. Bendib called the 5 million to 6 million people marching in the streets throughout France a healthy reflex.

Does supporting Je Suis Charlie mean you’re supporting the sentiment?

“Absolutely not,” said White. “There is a difference between expressing solidarity and actually subscribing to ideals. Ninety-nine point nine percent of people ready to hold the label had never read the magazine and many hadn’t heard of it.”

The print run of Charlie Hebdo skyrocketed from 50,000 prior to the attack to a whopping 7 million for the first post-attack issue.

The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism and the school’s Global Programs office sponsored the symposium.


Sarah Strasburg  
Guest blogger


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