‘Darkest Day’ For France, For Journalism

Posted January 7th, 2015 at 4:21 pm (UTC+0)


Irreverent? Admittedly.  Tasteless?  Often.  The French newspaper Charlie Hebdo regularly exercised a right to freedom of speech through satire.

Everyone was a target–not just Islam and its radicals:  In a December issue, Charlie published a cover cartoon depicting a garish Virgin Mary giving birth to the infant Jesus.

Today, the publication became a target itself.  Masked gunmen with automatic weapons burst into its newsrooms and began firing.  Twelve are dead, including the cartoonist known as “Cabu,” along with his editor and fellow cartoonist, Stephane Charbonnier, who used the pseudonym “Charb.”

Just minutes before the attack, Charlie had tweeted a satirical cartoon of Islamic State’s self-styled caliph offering wishes for a Happy New Year.

Charlie was firebombed in 2011 one day after it published a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad and has continued to receive threats.

“No barbaric act will never extinguish the freedom of the press,” French President François Hollande tweeted Wednesday.  “We are a united country that will react and unite.”



“France is America’s oldest ally, and has stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the fight against terrorists who threaten our shared security and the world,” President Barack Obama said in a written statement, offering the French government any assistance it would need to bring the shooters to justice.

In a joint briefing with Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna,  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. stands with France in “solidarity and commitment” in “confronting extremism.”

He noted that France gave birth to democracy, which is exactly what extremists fear the most.

The U.S. Embassy in Paris changed the picture of its Twitter account to read, “Je Suis Charlie,” after the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie–“I am Charlie”–which thousands of tweeps have been using to express their shock and outrage over the incident.


European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans called Wednesday’s incident “an attack on all of us, on our fundamental values, on the freedoms our #EU societies are built upon.”

Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders called it “the darkest day of the history of the French Press.”

Cecily Hilleary
Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for an English-language network in the UAE. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA a keen understanding of global social, cultural and political issues.

14 responses to “‘Darkest Day’ For France, For Journalism”

  1. John says:

    “Everyone was a target–not just Islam and its radicals”

    Does it imply that this act of terror would’ve been justified if even just Islam and its radicals were the target?

    • Cecily Hilleary Cecily Hilleary says:

      Not at all, John. I meant only to suggest that Islamists who targeted Charlie and the Danish press before that have seemed to forget that cartoonists haven’t just been making fun of them – they make fun of everyone. Satire is one way of letting off steam in politically-charged times. It’s certainly something we see in jihadists’ own publications.

  2. James says:

    I’m not sure how I can take website seriously. You quoted David Cameron, the same person who censoring Guardian newspaper, there’s not mention of that here. There’s no mention on spying journalist, arrest of journalists. I suppose Snowden’s words are correct, no one will question american narrative.

    • Cecily Hilleary Cecily Hilleary says:

      Thanks for your comment, James. The post was about the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, not about David Cameron or the US media or any other subject. Violations of individuals’ rights to speech occur globally, to varying degrees, in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere. If you check out earlier posts, you will see that I’ve covered violations even in our own United States. We have struggled over the issue of free speech when, for example, it reveals details of national security that could harm us – the NSA scandal, for example. And we have chosen to publish information even that could harm our image abroad, such as what really happened at Abu Ghraib. How is press freedom where you live?

      • James says:

        The point was justification of Charlie Hebdo was using free speech doctrine, quoting people with questionable politicians on free speech seem contradictory. From my experience with western media, these points get overlooked and leave areas of western hypocrisy. The second point, allowing a magazine to post inciteful content conflicts with national security which seems oxymoron when politicians like Cameron are curtailing personal liberties.

      • James says:

        One point I missed, if US is struggling here from nationalistic interest, it does question if US media validity. I expect news to be impartial if conflicts arise it safe to journalist have invested interest, it means they have slated biased. The two points mentioned, damage to country image shouldn’t be issue no media should hiding any news. The harm is interesting point, shouldn’t western media control if so? Why doesn’t involve others’ interest here such as Iran, Syria? We already seen media outlets being dishonestly skewed on countries and Muslims in these last era, it has resulted backlash on innocent people, there is no sense of accountability here. VOA current post on the issue seems reflect this as well.

        • Cecily Hilleary Cecily Hilleary says:

          Freedom of speech, a free press, is an ideal not always realized. This blog, indeed, the Voice of America, invites and appreciates your comments.

  3. Cecily Hilleary Cecily Hilleary says:

    You make a very interesting point: By choosing to publish those cartoons–regardless of their right to do so–the staff of Charlie Hebdo put not just themselves, but others, at risk.

    But where do we draw the line in what we allow media to publish and what we do not? And look how easily governments slide into complete repression of information.

    Thanks for your comments.

    • Henry says:

      This incident seems to contradict the work of Dieudonne M’bala M’bala where the French authorities actively tried to censor, the narrative of free speech get smaller and smaller. No mention in western media of this. And one point is France never created democracy it was the Greeks.

      • Cecily Hilleary Cecily Hilleary says:

        Henry, actually, the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Independent and several other high-profile western media outlets have written about Dieudonné.

        Frankly, this writer believes that any publication which targets any specific race, religion or ethnicity for ridicule is disrespectful, tasteless and ultimately harmful.

        Yes, you are right, democracy is the “invention” of the Greeks. France is counted as among the first democracies of the modern era.

        • James says:

          I think he was referring to oxymoron stance of free expression of French government, no one has really contrasted these points with Charlie Hebedo which seem a dose of hypocrisy.The article stated seems to show M’bala as hateful, which does question journalistic objectivity here, personal opinion should be refrained. Similarly the article of Charlie Hebedo seem to be shown in a different light.

          The issue here is we’re talking about free speech, ultimately to justify one and deny another is impartial. I think many are tired of endless paradigm of laws and conventions hiding behind arbitrary reasoning.

          Your post said it was birth of democracy, which would the Greeks.

          • Henry says:

            Thanks James, my sentiments exactly. I think this whole incident sums up my frustrations and disappointments with western media, it solves nothing but tries to fit with a personal agenda. There’s no measure of integrity of western politicians, they presume their authoritarian role like usual with heighten hypocrisy. Muslims are given collective identity in this, free speech laws and censorship isn’t being questioned, French failing to provide adequate security isn’t been questioned again. 12 Frenchmen who published provocative images got more respect than the latest drones attack, just like reporters who enter dangerous places and end up getting beheaded got more sympathy than countless civilians being killed ISIL is good indicate how racist, biased and nationalistic western media is.

          • James says:

            I agree, western media seems to biased to indoctrination. This incident has so much priority over so many events due to western media playing on western exceptionalism. The idea of punishing west never comes in our news or there’s downplaying events with selective narrative. The amount of disproportionality is quiet sickening. They will continue parade questionable politicians, just look at how France is now country of liberty despite it’s selective censorship and open discrimination on Muslims’ rights.

    • James says:

      I’m not really sure, would anyone justify works that are only here to provoke hostility and create social decord? Free speech is stated to be good, but western society are two faced on this issues especially when they’re personally compromised. The issue with western media is placing events on telling other having some significance while proportionally there’s too many flaws. Like I said before, there’s no mention of these politicians who have oppressed free speech in one form of another. The idea of talking of free speech here is quiet laughable. Despite the media taking foolish risk, these people have got more coverage than many more victims say drones, or recent air plane attack .


About rePRESSEDed

VOA reporter Cecily Hilleary monitors the state of free expression and free speech around the world.



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