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Satire in open societies

Editorial: the Dagbladet view


A number of newspapers and media worldwide chose to print facsimiles of the satirical weekly magazine after the attack on Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday. Dagbladet's justification for publishing is clearly journalistically motivated; we publish the material because it is vital for understanding the news event.

Different media have different roles. It is not natural that all media publish satirical drawings as uncompromisingly as Charlie Hebdo. However, to this French paper, the ability to be challenging and exceed boundaries is the point. It represents a genre of satire with strong traditions in France; however, it is also an important element of the international press in general. Humorous, hard-hitting political caricatures take the opportunity to thumb their noses at people of power and authorities of all kinds. Satire states individual cases in their extreme form, and often tells the story which was impossible to relay with text only. Thus, satire is also a symbol of the freedom of the press, of the broad framework on which public discussion depends in order not to be paralyzed.

Foreign Editor Fleming Rose of Jyllands-Posten printed the Mohammed caricatures in 2006. Yesterday he wrote a comment in his paper about freedom of speech and offences. His main point is important, and correct: «If we, like in unfree societies, pursue a false harmony by criminalizing more and more expressions according to the principle: if you accept my taboo, and do not make offending or critical statements about what is sacred to me, I will do the same. Thus, this will, in an increasingly diverse society, be the road to the tyranny of silence» (our translation, editor's note).

Several large media organisations, among them the news agency AP, have chosen to censor the Charlie Hebdo drawings in their news coverage. The agency is a good example of how such practice can degenerate. After protest from conservative organ The Washington Examiner, AP has now also removed pictures from their database which may offend adherents of other religions — for example Christians.
This is not a viable alternative, and at odds with a key point of press ethics: «The press shall protect the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and the principle of public access. It cannot give into pressure from anyone who wishes to interfere with open debate, free dissemination of information, and free access to sources. »