Free Speech Is Not Offensive Journalism

2015-01-12 06:11

Following the massacre at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, the mass media and politicians are propelling the narrative that the journalists at Charlie Hebdo were killed for being bold satirists and cartoonists. And in order to promote Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo, some news outlets are reprinting his violently provocative cartoons.

The crucial question to ask is: What is the need to draw or caricature controversial and questionable images especially regarding religion or scared, holy figures and symbols? The drawing of provocative cartoons continues to baffle me; especially by individuals who have to be highly intelligent and educated to hold such posts.

Adverts, comedies, cartoons and satire do not have to involve distasteful, dishonest and dehumanising contempt. To be purposefully horrible and offensive just because you can is not freedom of speech.

It’s disturbing to see how the principle of freedom of the press or speech is used to target various cultures with slander, innuendo and disrespect.

Laws criminalising freedom of expression are all around us, like the laws against incitement and hatred.

It is no use shouting “FIRE” in a packed auditorium and then, after a stampede, say, “It’s just a joke!’ this is where the boundary for freedom of speech is drawn.

Freedom of speech is not absolute and has curtailments. Freedom has its boundaries in every context. Boundaries that protect ethical human respect and value for the dignity of the other. These are parameters which any self- respecting human being should be able to recognise and not over-step in order to maintain the much needed peace and love so desperately needed in these turbulent times.

Many use freedom laws to offend or demean others but are not tolerant towards those who offend their own views.

The British government is in the process of introducing laws that will proscribe everyone, even toddlers, for uttering words that are against British culture. Germany criminalises holocaust denial while in France, women are fined for wearing the hijab (covering of the face).

Would a cartoonist who mocks, debates, questions or denies the holocaust get the same “free speech” protection? I doubt it; the cartoonist would more likely be imprisoned.

French satirist Maurice Sinet, was fired for a column he wrote in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. (

Same rules should be applied to all religious beliefs. It is unfortunate that freedom of speech is interpreted by some western media as the right to ridicule and insult some of the most venerable and exalted personalities who graced this earth.

To quote Noam Chomsky: “If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.”

At a time when the entire world is gripped by events that aim to drive a wedge between East and West, one would have thought it prudent to say the least, not to exacerbate the existing tensions by publishing highly offensive images.

Let’s not misuse our precious freedoms. Freedom must be used with respect and, as with all freedoms, it must be curtailed at a certain point before it incites dangerous repercussions.

By this I am not implying that free speech or the press should be censored, we should use that privilege with caution and reverence.

Freedom of all forms of expression is a universal, inclusive human right, but it is unfair to use civil freedom laws to humiliate the other by insulting their beliefs or religion.

Freedom from insults and provocation, tolerance and respect, and freedom to practise religion are essential rights that should be guaranteed to every community.

What is important to bear in mind is that for every action there will be a reaction, and it is this action that needs to be unemotionally and objectively analysed.

There is an urgent need for all key role players to engage in constructive dialogue to understand the grievances of people and communities that might tempt some to commit such extreme, heinous acts of violence.

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