#JeSuisCharlie, the South African media, free expression - what are the links?

What does the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris have to do with South Africa's picture on freedom of speech and expression, particularly for our media?

Notable media personalities Peter Bruce, Ferial Haffajee and Tom Eaton reflecting on these links through their three columns.

Former editor of the Business Day Peter Bruce wrote "Je suis Charlie offers lesson of tolerance". Bruce unpacks his thoughts on Charlie Hebdo's decision to have their post-attack cover featuring another depiction of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad:

It's done what it had to do. I was just watching a video of the cartoonists announcing what they were doing on the cover today and it was very moving, with the drawing of the Prophet Muhammad with a tear running down his face and somebody scribbled 'all is forgiven' at the bottom. I think it's a great cover. (On his column) it just seemed to me to be important to remind people that although this terrible thing had happened in Paris, life in many Muslim countries and many African countries because of the Jihad, is intolerably awful. People are routinely and very casually killed, raped or kidnapped in the name of the Prophet. I just wanted to remind people that what happened in Paris - in the greater scheme of things - was not a small event, but a routine event in many countries.

Satirist Tom Eaton - who first rose to prominence as a columnist for the Mail and Guardian - wrote "Why we aren't really Charlie" :

I chose to stay away from the geopolitics but I did feel that people were taking an emotional stand, without fully understanding why they were taking that particular stand. As I point out in my column - why are we outraged, exactly? The easy answer is 'something terrible happened'. The more complicated answer is 'why aren't we equally as outraged about other terrible things that happen?'

Meanwhile, City Press Editor Ferial Haffajee who wrote "Treading the tight line of tolerance" wants the South African media to truly start interrogating it's freedom to expression, as enshrined in the Constitution:

What I do tire of in South Africa is that we always speak of 'the costs' - where do we draw the line? And we speak about its limits. As journalists and editors, we're harming that right in Section 16 of our Constitution (Freedom of Expression) by constantly referring to the bigger picture, by not amplifying this right and I make absolutely no apologies by being horrified by the killings in Paris and it doesn't mean I can't be horrified by what's been happening in Baga (Nigeria), but I don't think that they are exceptions. You can't support the one and not support the other.

To add fuel to the fire around freedom of speech and expression, an Israeli newspaper edited out the women leaders who marched in solidarity with global leaders in Paris following the terror attack. Redi Tlhabi weighed in on the layered levels of irony of this move:

I'm reflecting on this picture (below), have a look at it - women edited out of Paris rally picture. They were there in numbers - world leaders. And in this picture that appeared in an Israeli newspaper, they were edited out and the paper apologised, claiming it's policy was not to publish pictures of women, on the grounds of modesty. And it's the irony that I can't stand - here are people, supposedly covering a march for freedom of speech and they are going to 'wish' women out of that march; so much for 'freedom of speech'. They are adhering, obviously, to religious dictates, they did not want to offend the powers-that-be, yet what occasioned it was the lampooning of another religion. It's just jaw-dropping, the hypocrisy. And what does it mean to not publish pictures of women on the grounds of 'modesty'? In my mind, this makes a mockery of free speech, it confirms what I've been arguing - not everybody who was out in the streets was supporting free speech. It's 'free speech' if it's directed at somebody else, but if it comes to you, it is an attack, it is disrespect, it is denying your rights. Why the newspaper felt it right to cover? They shouldn't have covered the event, then. They're covering politicians gathering in a march against terrorism, also in a march for free speech - that's what that march was about. But in covering it, they themselves are going to adhere to religious dictates and sensitivities. That's not freedom of speech - it's hypocrisy.

Listen to the forum in full below:


This article first appeared on 702 : #JeSuisCharlie, the South African media, free expression - what are the links?


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