Belfast Telegraph

Charlie Hebdo: Belfast Telegraph stands united with French colleagues to defend a free Press

Editor's viewpoint

Few people will disagree with the description given by French President Francois Hollande of the gun attack on a Paris-based satirical magazine’s office which left 12 people dead and several more critically injured.

He called it an act of extreme barbarity.

Witnesses told how the gunmen cold-bloodedly executed a wounded policeman as he lay on the pavement near the offices pleading for his life. Nor was any mercy shown to the staff of the magazine — Charlie Hebdo — who were slain throughout the building.

The attack bears all the hallmarks of an atrocity carried out by Islamic fanatics, both in the chillingly effective way it was conducted and in the target chosen.

The magazine was attacked by Islamists in the past after publishing a cartoon mocking the Prophet Muhammad. But the magazine, carrying on the insolent and sometimes offensive tradition of satirical media in France, also mocked other organised religions on a regular basis, as well as politicians, governments and even other countries.

Yesterday’s massacre was not just an attack on Charlie Hebdo but on Press freedom. In any democracy the freedom of the media to criticise, mock, offend or satirise should be defended to the last.

We have seen that freedom challenged many times in this country by both politicians and fanatics. This newspaper was bombed in 1976 by the IRA but that did not prevent it publishing again the next day and continuing to denounce violence from all quarters. Fanatics, no matter what their cause, can never be allowed to undermine an essential freedom.

Other attacks have been much more insidious. Using the phone hacking scandal as a pretext, Westminster politicians launched a concerted attack on Press freedom by proposing new tougher regulation and swingeing fines for offending media.

What the politicians carefully avoided highlighting — but which was obvious as the hacking scandal unfolded — was that existing laws offered proper redress against those who committed criminal acts. The phone hacking was conducted by a tiny minority of newspapers, yet attempts were made to blacken the reputation of all the media.

 Press freedom in Northern Ireland has been curtailed by the failure to implement the Defamation Act 2013, which was introduced in England and Wales to update archaic libel laws. The NI Law Commission has issued a consultation document on the issue. This newspaper has been to the fore of attempts to have our libel laws updated and eagerly awaits any development.

Even the courts, at times, have tried to stifle the work of the Press by imposing gagging orders on what journalists can report about proceedings. These have been challenged on every occasion, and it is essential that the media refuses to have its freedom curtailed.

A free Press stimulates, provokes and sustains the essential debates of a democratic society. Whatever its critics say, an unfree Press would be much more harmful to societal well-being than even the occasional excess of a free Press. That is why today the Belfast Telegraph is proud to say: “Je Suis Charlie.”

Few people will disagree with the description given by French President Francois Hollande of the gun attack on a Paris-based satirical magazine’s office which left 12 people dead and several more critically injured. He called it an act of extreme barbarity.

Witnesses told how the gunmen cold-bloodedly executed a wounded policeman as he lay on the pavement near the offices pleading for his life. Nor was any mercy shown to the staff of the magazine — Charlie Hebdo — who were slain throughout the building.

The attack bears all the hallmarks of an atrocity carried out by Islamic fanatics, both in the chillingly effective way it was conducted and in the target chosen.

The magazine was attacked by Islamists in the past after publishing a cartoon mocking the Prophet Muhammad. But the magazine, carrying on the insolent and sometimes offensive tradition of satirical media in France, also mocked other organised religions on a regular basis, as well as politicians, governments and even other countries.

Yesterday’s massacre was not just an attack on Charlie Hebdo but on Press freedom. In any democracy the freedom of the media to criticise, mock, offend or satirise should be defended to the last.

We have seen that freedom challenged many times in this country by both politicians and fanatics. This newspaper was bombed in 1976 by the IRA but that did not prevent it publishing again the next day and continuing to denounce violence from all quarters. Fanatics, no matter what their cause, can never be allowed to undermine an essential freedom.

Other attacks have been much more insidious. Using the phone hacking scandal as a pretext, Westminster politicians launched a concerted attack on Press freedom by proposing new tougher regulation and swingeing fines for offending media.

What the politicians carefully avoided highlighting — but which was obvious as the hacking scandal unfolded — was that existing laws offered proper redress against those who committed criminal acts. The phone hacking was conducted by a tiny minority of newspapers, yet attempts were made to blacken the reputation of all the media.

Press freedom in Northern Ireland has been curtailed by the failure to implement the Defamation Act 2013, which was introduced in England and Wales to update archaic libel laws. The NI Law Commission has issued a consultation document on the issue. This newspaper has been to the fore of attempts to have our libel laws updated and eagerly awaits any development.

Even the courts, at times, have tried to stifle the work of the Press by imposing gagging orders on what journalists can report about proceedings. These have been challenged on every occasion, and it is essential that the media refuses to have its freedom curtailed.

A free Press stimulates, provokes and sustains the essential debates of a democratic society. Whatever its critics say, an unfree Press would be much more harmful to societal well-being than even the occasional excess of a free Press. That is why today the Belfast Telegraph is proud to say: “Je Suis Charlie.”

Further reading

Manhunt for killers underway as thousands join vigils

Paris shooting suspects identified

Stay united, Hollande urges nation

Magazine mockery spreads Islam row

Firebombed paper ups print run

Muslims condemn paper arson attack

It's Charlie Hebdo's right to draw Muhammad, but they missed the opportunity to do something profound 

 

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