Report – By Pacific Media Watch
The director of AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre today condemned the “outrageous and cowardly” attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, describing it as a despicable assault on global media freedom.
Professor David Robie at AUT University said he was heartened by the weekly magazine’s courageous staff decision to continue its struggle for freedom and go ahead with the next edition in spite of the killing of 12 people by masked gunmen in a raid on its editorial offices on Wednesday.
“This a terrible blow against freedom of expression and press freedoms everywhere and we should not allow such brutality to intimidate us.”
The PMC in AUT’s School of Communication Studies publishes Pacific Scoop, PMC Online and runs the Pacific Media Watch freedom project in collaboration with the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.
“In spite of the savagery of this attack against unarmed cartoonists and peaceful media co-workers by religious zealots, the pen will still remain mightier than the sword,” said Dr Robie.
“The global ‘Je suis Charlie – I am Charlie’ campaign is already evidence of the worldwide defence of freedom of expression against tyranny.”
More than 1500 people attended a “We are Charlie” rally in Auckland today in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo and the democratic right of freedom of expression.
Dr Robie joined RWB/RSF in saying the attack on Charlie Hebdo was a tragic reminder of the dangers to which journalists covering sensitive religious issues are permanently exposed.
“Journalists are increasingly facing religious taboos and censorship that influential groups are trying to impose. Columnists, editorial writers and cartoonists are among the journalists who are most exposed to threats, prosecution and even physical attacks.”
Charlie Hebdo is regarded as highly critical of Islamist extremism having published many cartoons, including of the Prophet Muhammad.
“But it is equally critical in lampooning Christianity, Judaism and many other faiths,” Dr Robie said.
Ironically, one of the police officers gunned down was a brave Muslim defending the right to ridicule his faith.
“Humour and satire are important safety valves in our democratic societies. We must defend this right to free expression without fear or favour.”
However, Dr Robie said the killing of journalists and media workers with impunity in developing and authoritarian nations in the Asia-Pacific region far from the glare of the world’s press should not be overlooked.
The International Federation of Journalists reported a record 118 journalists and media workers being killed in 2014 with the highest death toll in Pakistan – 14 killings.
Dr Robie said the worst single attack on journalists was the 2009 Maguindanao, or Ampatuan, massacre on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao when 34 media staff were murdered among a total of 58 civilians in an ambush on an election motorcade.
“Nobody has yet been successfully prosecuted and jailed for this atrocity after five years, although more than 100 suspects are reportedly being ‘detained’.”
At the rally today, organised by Elise Fournier and Géraldine Clermont, French photographers, artists and writers spoke of defending free expression and the crowd sang the national anthem La Marseillaise.’The right to be rude, the right to be crude… are at the core of Charlie Hebdo’s fight for freedom of speech,” said video production editor Géraldine Clermont.
“Its cartoonists and writers strongly believe that one should be able to laugh at everything – from genocide to fundamentalism. If we destroy this fundamental right, we are destroying our own core human rights that we fought for so long: our freedom.”
Alexander Ingham, whose journalist parents live in Paris, one working for Agence France-Presse news agency and the other a correspondent for The New Zealand Herald, warned of the higher risks now facing journalists.
“This terror attack was highly unexpected and leaves us dumbstruck … Freedom of speech is one of the fundamental rights in France.”
Countless messages have been posted on social media in New Zealand in support of Charlie Hebdo, but there have been critics too.
One critical poster on The Daily Blog asked: “Did [Charlie Hebdo] ever publish any cartoons on the Rainbow Warrior?”, in reference to the bombing of the Greenpeace environmental flagship by French secret agents in Auckland harbour on 10 July 1985 to prevent it going to Moruroa Atoll to protest against nuclear tests.
A reader has since kindly offered a link to a Plantu cartoon in Le Monde, which roughly translated a quote by then President Francois Mitterrand giving a subsequent history lesson: “At that time, only presidents had the right to carry out terrorism!”