CHARLIE HEBDO is not a symbol of the Free Press. The weekly journal IS the Free Press.
It is more and more difficult to know what to believe – Why does my city’s newspaper put Presidential news on page 5 and Senate news on the front page? Is Fox News presenting the news or its own biased perspectives? Does the AP Wire omit stories of interest to under-developed nations and to religious minorities?
Do we have Freedom of the Press in the USA, or is the “news” so filtered through press releases, press secretaries, editors, and those in charge, that we hear what “They” want us to hear, learning what “They” want us to believe is fact.
The news I get on French news stations, in French newspapers, and on French radio is dramatically different than what I read in the New York Times and AOL news. The news from these sources has different slants; but more, the information itself is different. Huge stories are ignored by the American Press, and vice-versa. Is it because power behind the media promotes its own agenda and fortune?
I believe in Free Speech and a Free Press, based on the theory that if I hear it all, I will be able to make up my own mind, that if people in general hear it all, they can make informed choices. Despite our cynicism about the intelligence level of the general population, these two freedoms help us to rule ourselves, rather than to be tyrannized.
Yes, in the USA and in European countries, there are parameters around Free Speech and the Free Press. Inciting a group to riot is illegal, verbally or in print. Certain communications are considered treasonous. Threats of murder are against the law. It is illegal to mis-quote someone, or to spread untrue things which ruin someone’s character. Pornography has its limits too.
But I can stand on my corner and preach, or I can denounce all religions. I can explain my feminist views on Facebook, and condemn anti-abortion politicians in my essays. My government assures me I do not have to be afraid of speaking my mind, out loud or in print. Sometimes this promise is not kept, but it is a promise nonetheless. If I don’t like what someone is saying or writing, I can ignore it, sometimes as simply as “unfriending” a relative on Facebook. I don’t like what some people believe and say, but in line with Voltaire, I defend their right to believe it and speak about it.
CHARLIE HEBDO is not a magazine I read. It’s an unimportant weekly rag, and I am not a big follower of political cartoons. I don’t like sarcastic humor based on anger, which is only a millimeter different from effective satire. But I give CHARLIE HEBDO my respect – the journal is egalitarian with those it eviscerates. No one, no religion, no political party or system is exempt from its attacks. The cartoons span international topics and satirize their targets with precision.
Of course, the targets do not like what CHARLIE HEBDO publishes. Would the Pope like a drawing of himself with his knickers down at his ankles while a choir boy licks his penis? This is a blasphemous image. But the point is, Freedom of the Press protects the right of CHARLIE HEBDO to publish such a cartoon. If the Pope is angry about the drawing or the “insinuation” in it, he has choices – but the one choice he does not have is to silence the cartoonist, not in a society which promises Freedom of the Press. Most certainly, no one has the right to silence another by murder.
“I am Charlie” means I believe in Free Speech and the Free Press even when I do not like what is said or is printed. It means you cannot kill me, you cannot kill my open mind, my fierce pride in my freedoms. The slogan means the spirit of freedom is immediately passed onto to others when a few die, and you cannot kill us all. But CHARLIE HEBDO does not “mean” anything. CHARLIE HEBDO is. It does not need to be an important or sophisticated journal to be protected. It exists, and therefore it illustrates our fundamental rights on its pages and by its presence. And ironically, CHARLIE HEBDO’s survival has been ensured by the horrific attack on it.