Charlie Hebdo and the enemies of free speech

January 12, 2015 OPINION/NEWS

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By

Val B. Russell

Satire defined: The artistic form in which human or individual vices, folly, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, sometimes with an intent to bring about improvement.

Satire is but one expression of free speech and is particularly powerful when images and caricatures are used to deliver a specific message. The political cartoon in particular has always been used to lampoon those in power, giving the citizenry a voice and opportunity to question the motives and actions of those in government.

However, as with all things free, it is wide open to corruption and exploitation, even when the motivation and intention are pure. Charlie Hebdo was indeed a publication that pushed social and political boundaries, making enemies of those who found themselves on the receiving end of the stroke of a sometimes caustic pen; there is no disputing this in the wake of the horrific executions at their offices in Paris. However, amid the flurry of hastily written solidarity pieces both online and in print from fellow journalists eager and raging to jump on the trending free speech bandwagon, only one enemy has been identified in the attack, completely disregarding another shadowy and elusive threat that has nothing to do with religion, race or terrorism.

There is no denying that Muslim extremists were identified as being responsible for the deaths at the Charlie Hebdo offices and that the motivation was  a bloody retaliation for an exercise of free speech in a society that holds it sacred.  The ability to write, broadcast or visually display personal opinions is indeed a birthright, however, a far more sinister enemy to our liberty is hidden in plain sight and we need to look no further than the information we are fed at various news sites online or in print.

The responsibility of every journalist is to investigate, record and publish the truth, without bias or superficial news gathering methods. When the objectivity of those who work within the media is poisoned by knee jerk reactions to events, ego or flattering attention from the elite, free speech ceases to exist and it becomes something else: propaganda.

 

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In the days following the murderous spree in Paris, a mass exodus of journalists of every stripe descended on the city of light. The inspiring vocal gathering has been covered by news agencies around the world with a righteous enthusiasm bordering on a religious zeal that is often the birthplace of dangerous thinking and finger pointing. However, within the reportage of this war on those would silence the press, one photograph exposes a sinister and unlikely cousin to the factions that desire to thwart public access to the truth:

 

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When government officials insert themselves for photo ops, standing shoulder to shoulder with those whose entire profession is at cross purposes to political agendas, serious questions of intent on both sides need to be asked. It is never in the best interest of free speech or journalistic integrity to stand in solidarity with any government official for any reason, and to do so is to wade in murky water. There is an open treachery captured in the above photograph. This image is chilling because it is clearly engineered and fake solely for public consumption, as all appearances of world leaders are. Spin doctors are paid opportunists who promote and exploit situations those in power and clearly this was an impressive parasitic response to a tragedy for political gain and it is reminiscent of other wars, civil unrest and leaders with a bloody agenda where the first right abolished was the right to know. The tongues of journalists will never be stilled by religious ideology or bombs, rather, they will be muted by the messengers themselves when they buy into political manipulation, corporate reliance, bigotry, hatred and fear.

Photographic credits: BBC and Watcherofthedawn

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