prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Posted by prof e on January 8, 2015

Newspaper headlines this morning provide another grim reminder that terrorism by Islamic extremists is often directed at media outlets and media professionals who dare to poke them in the eye. What constitutes a “poke in the eye” is partly the issue. In this particular case, employees of a satirical magazine that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad were executed in a military-style attack by gunmen with possible links to al-Qaida.

It may be difficult for Westerners to understand how a religious insult escalates to this level of hatred and violence, but we certainly have no shortage of examples. You may remember the Benghazi attack that resulted in the death of our ambassador to Libya and two of his security detail. That attack, and widespread rioting in the Middle East, was blamed on the YouTube release of a controversial movie produced in the US. In 2005 a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the prophet leading to widespread riots and  violence in Muslim countries. And the year before, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered for his film Submission, which took a critical look at the treatment of women in Muslim culture.

Adding insult to injury, a guest oped in today’s edition of USA Today, by radical Islamic cleric Anjem Choudary, suggests that the French newspaper had it coming and blamed the victims for their own fate.

The Social Responsibility model of the press, and the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution, call for a very different response to speech that may offend.

According to an editorial published in today’s Pueblo Chieftain,

It is both a fundamental right and a sacred duty of newspapers to consider and publish all opinions and angles of a news story, including those that are unpopular with certain readers. Any attack on this right is an attack on the very foundation of a free press.

Unfortunately this story, like life itself, it’s a bit more complicated than first appears. Journalism, the kind the 1st Amendment was designed to protect, is morphing into something that might be unrecognizable to our founding fathers. Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine that was attacked today, should not be compared to Time magazine, The Guardian, or Le Monde. Don’t get me wrong, the actions of the radical terrorists is inexcusable…it was brutal, repugnant, and evil, and I am in no way offering a defense of their actions. But I’m also not ignoring the fact that news organizations (and pseudo-news organizations) are increasingly engaging in activities that are not entirely defensible under the old rules of engagement.


One Response to “Don’t Shoot the Messenger”

  1. Lilyana Lahti said

    I feel there is no good reason to compare these journalists and any other country’s was of writing about current events. Yes, here in America we have an Amendment that protects our freedom of press, but in other countries that isn’t the case. Especially when dealing with groups like al-Qaida, they may not believe in freedom of expression in press, but they believe in the right to protect their religion. The way they decided to handle their outrage was unacceptable but also understandable. People will go to any lengths when it offends them, and usually it’s because it’s almost like a direct attack. These journalists didn’t deserve the fate they got for what they created, but whenever something is related to terrorism, politics, or religion, someone should rethink what they are doing.

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