Charlie Hebdo says prize protest a 'misunderstanding'

2015-05-02 12:01
File: AFP

File: AFP

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington - Two of the surviving journalists from French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo brushed off controversy over a literary award on Friday.

In January, 12 members of the magazine's staff were massacred when two Islamist gunmen - enraged by caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed - stormed an editorial meeting in Paris.

This month, the publication is to be honoured by the PEN authors association, but more than 150 writers have pulled out of the event in protest at cartoons they say are offensive to France's minority populations.

Speaking in Washington, Charlie Hebdo's film critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret - who only avoided the attack because he had been late for work - said the critics had misunderstood the reason for the PEN award.

"Maybe there is a little misunderstanding, I guess they imagine this award was given to Charlie Hebdo regarding its content," he said.

"There is a confusion. It's an award given to the principle of freedom of speech."

Those pulling out of the May 5 annual PEN American Center gala include celebrated writers such as Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi.

Free expression

Carey, a two-time Booker Prize winner, said the award went beyond the group's traditional role of protecting freedom of expression against government oppression.

"A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?" the New York Times quoted him as saying.

"All this is complicated by PEN's seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population."

Charlie's editor-in-chief Gerard Biard dismissed this argument.

"It's always gratifying to have a contrarian opinion, to say 'I don't think like the masses. I'm above all that,'" he told AFP.

"That's their problem. If they think PEN is no longer about protecting free expression, why don't they leave it?"

Speaking at Freedom House, a democratic rights watchdog, Thoret pointed out that out of 500 Charlie Hebdo cover stories published before the attack - only 11 dealt with Islam.

"That's the reality," he said. "We have never publish racist cartoons. Historically, we are an anti-racist magazine. It's in our DNA.

"Mohammed is an icon, a symbol. We at Charlie Hebdo are against icons - like we are against soccer," he said.

Read more on:    charlie hebdo  |  us  |  media

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.