Society cannot work without uninhibited, unintimidated press

After the popular media’s thorough coverage of the massacre that occurred in France last week at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, many outlets have received waves of backlash from publications and news stations that chose not to show the cartoon that inspired the shooting.

The cartoon portrayed the Muslim prophet Muhammad being executed by the ISIL terrorist nicknamed “Jihadist John.”

Though major news outlets such as USA Today, CBS and FOX News constantly displayed Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons which featured Muhammad, others chose not to show them for safety reasons,or to appease their Muslim readership. Some outlets simply did not agree with Charlie Hebdo’s message, even implying that they deserved their fate for their lack of sensitivity.

As offensive and insensitive as Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were, they served as legal mediums for expressing the magazine’s political views after all. As journalists, they have the right to say whatever they wish whenever they wish, don’t they?

The deaths of the editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo are evidence that they do not. The shooting was not solely an attack on one unfavorable image. It was a much larger attack on free press and national security. In response to this attack, it is important not only to France, but to the rest of the free world, that extremism and violence do not silence the right to write.

Naturally, as the guardians of free speech and political agency, newspapers have a duty to preserve the freedom to criticize and inform. By not featuring Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, publications like the New York Times, CNN and ABC missed out on a valuable opportunity to show their solidarity. Their dedication, not only to Charlie Hebdo, but numerous journalists, publications and freedom advocates around the world.

By not featuring the cartoons, these publications rather cowardly shirked their responsibility, to uphold the very principles of free speech and free expression that both French and American government are built on, effectively letting terrorism and extremism have the day.

Real journalism is a risky, dirty business. Although our generation is lucky enough to have inherited the right to say what we please, it has been a somewhat short-lived pleasure. As journalists around the world are increasingly put in more dangerous situations, in a society where written criticism is readily muted by violence and scare tactics, we have to realize that freedom of speech today does not look like what we were originally promised.

That is why media must fight to remain free, at whatever the cost. This is why the media needs to put out Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons; why papers must publish the scandalous stories; and why they must say things that otherwise would not be said. Above all, the public deserves to know the truth and a truly free society cannot function without an uninhibited and unintimidated press.

We cannot continue to call ourselves a free nation if we insist on censoring ourselves and skating around important issues in order to appease violent, misguided factions. When we allow men with big guns to scare us into keeping our thoughts to ourselves, they have won.