By Forrest Murphy—
The freedom of the press, like many hard-fought liberties, has never existed without opposition to the ideals behind it. The terrorist attack on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has been a somber reminder of the price often paid for uncensored expression amongst those in the journalistic profession. It’s a tragic event that has brought up the question: where does free expression cross the line, if there is one, and if so should such content be censored?
Tragically, attacks like the one on Charlie Hebdo are not new to the press. Giving the media free reign over what they choose to publish has rarely ever sat well with those whose agendas are often focused on oppression. Free ideas have the power to undermine religion, policy, individuals, and even tear at the fabric of ideals that hold a society together. Look at the Roman Empire, Imperial England in Colonial America, or Nazi Germany. All are entities that often met a free press with the tip of a sword for challenging their rule and supremacy of influence over the common people.
Charlie Hebdo has satirized many (if not all) of the categories above during its run, and for good reason. What some fringe players in the world stage, such as the Islamic terrorists who cowardly attacked the newspaper view as obscene and unacceptable, has actually served as a powerful tool to expose these characters for the brutal and intolerable individuals they are. Their distorted, malicious ideology brought to light for the rest of the world to see because of the courage of the paper’s staff to not back down because of fear of retribution.
It must be pointed out, however, that not all free speech is pleasant speech. Degrading a certain group’s religion, burning the American flag, and personally attacking public figures all could work into this category. Sadly, it is not in human nature for all people to be agreeable, easygoing individuals who share a universal love of rainbow colored unicorns. No, humanity is full of discord and difference of opinion, which as the individuals and groups on the receiving end of such acts like the ones stated above learn every day. While certain deeds like these are not necessarily received well in certain circles, they are rightfully protected under the 1st Amendment as instances of free expression.
A free press is a medium used by the people to join voices and make their opinions heard, even if they are negative in nature. By censoring media, the collective inputs of countless citizens are lost, damaging more than just publications. That is because in essence, the opinions and ideas of the individuals media feed on are muted, an infringement on personal civil liberty. Which is not something that is taken too kindly to, especially in America.
Free flowing, uncensored journalism is a powerful engine for change, because it empowers each and every individual who indulges in it. It transfers authority from those in positions of power to the will of the common people by letting them form their own opinions on the issues of the times, as opposed to merely accepting an opinion that is forced upon them. As Thomas Jefferson once stated, “The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to.”
Censorship of the press is dangerous, because once some ideas are no longer allowed to be expressed, others will surely follow. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was meant to scare the media into censoring its content, the ultimate submission for a free press. However, it was an infinitely hopeless attempt at this goal, because those who carried out the horrendous attack could never understand what a free press is about.
Charlie Hebdo is more than simply a newspaper. It is more than just a collection of words and pictures on a page. It is a symbol of freedom. Every word and phrase an act of defiance toward those who would silence them for bringing to light the world’s injustices for all to see. The slain workers of Charlie Hebdo refused to be quiet, and as long as there are other individuals who refuse to simply accept the world as it is and what they are told, their deaths will not have been in vain and their sacrifice never forgotten.