By Natalie Lorimer
The murder of twelve people, nine working as journalists at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, has reminded us that journalism carries power. Their deaths were tragic and merciless. The attack on a quiet Parisian street has now officially marked free speech as an enemy of terrorism. As journalists and citizens from around the globe join together in solidarity to condemn the actions of the few, our hope now is to use what rights we do have to allow the many to speak even louder.
Journalism is a profession that is shaped by hard work and perseverance. As students learning the tricks of the trade, we are told from the very first lecture that becoming a journalist involves starting from the bottom and working up. While many of us dread to think of the time we will inevitably have to spend working unpaid internships to get that crucial experience required to reach the many exciting opportunities that journalism offers, it’s difficult to imagine any of us turning up to work and never coming home.
It is worrying to think that working in journalism could be considered dangerous. Sitting at your desk in the office of the local paper would seem a million miles away from working in countries where terror reigns.
Living with a certain sense of security in a country like the United Kingdom, we must remember that we are luckier than some. It can be hard for any aspiring young reporter to picture late night deadlines, and one too many cups of coffee, turning into chilling threats and meetings with the editor conducted under police protection. This became the reality for those working at Charlie Hebdo; a magazine produced in a country with a similarly secure and peaceful existence.
If it could happen to them, why couldn’t it happen to us?
As our minds remain with the most recent atrocity, the events of this attack have also brought various other incidents affecting journalists to public attention. During a march of solidarity held on the streets of Paris, various world leaders and influential government representatives made themselves present in order to create a united front against extremism and commend those who choose to speak freely. These figures included the United States Attorney General, who passed a decision to allow Ferguson Police Department officers to arrest certain journalists reporting on the Michael Brown case.
Also present was the Saudi ambassador to France representing a country who issued public beatings in order to punish a prominent blogger for using his platform to “insult Islam.” The public took notice of this hypocrisy against journalists’ right to free speech and turned to the internet to protest. The very thing these leaders aim to diminish came back with a bite. Journalists, however, won’t be able to rely on the power of public outcry forever. Public outcry doesn’t always stop a reporter receiving their sentence of a thousand lashes.
The relationship between journalists and free speech is a brave one. Those who share their ideas and are prepared to face consequences show courage. One of the many warnings we receive as journalists-in-training focuses on choice of language. The rules are strict: avoid hate speech, copyright infringement, libel, profanity, and slander amongst other things.
Eliminate the obvious dangers in order to speak freely.
Journalists have the privilege of a platform to exercise this right to speak. It provides that influence journalism holds – enough to worry world leaders and extremists.
Free speech can be controversial, but it is essential for quality journalism. When the little guys can’t be heard, news reporting lets them speak louder. This exists as a small factor in creating a democratic society like the one we live in. It is hard to be fearless in the face of a threat but when the power of words is at our disposal it can be easier to take a stand. The staff at Charlie Hebdo choose to continue their work and that is bravery in action. No matter where we end up after our internships and long nights, we can remember them and keep on going.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’).appendChild(s);