By Oscar Michel, Masters in Journalism, DCU.
Censorship is the suppression of the free speech on the grounds that an act of expression harms or offends the public.
“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being an idea at all” – Oscar Wilde
What we can ask each other is what should be restricted?
Let’s take the example of Charlie Hebdo. Created in 1970 by François Cavanna and Professor Choron, it was originally named Hebdo Hara-Kiri. It was published every Wednesday and cost €3. In France this newspaper is considered as the guardian of a free press. They did essentially caricatures of politics, religions, sects, far right, Islam.
After May 68, the biggest French revolution of the 20th century, the Hebdo Hara-kiri was the symbol of anti-capitalism and free press.
In 1981, the satirical magazine ceased its publications. In 1992 Philippe Val and Cabu stopped working in “La Grosse Bertha” and wanted to create a new newspaper. As Charlie Hara-Kiri was free they relaunched the newspaper and changed its name to Charlie Hebdo.
After 9/11 Charlie Hebdo started to criticise Islam, and public opinion began to change. The Union of Islamic Organisations of France, the grand Mosque of Paris and the World Islamic League launched proceedings against Charlie Hebdo for public insults against a group of people’s religion.
The magazine would not stop proclaiming the freedom of speech and the idea that “we could laugh at everything”. Therefore they published a text called “le manifeste de douze” where they explained that Islam was a new religious totalitarianism threatening democracy in the same way as Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism.
Then on 7th of January 2015, the brothers Kouachi come in the buildings of Charlie Hebdo and shot many people. The Journal decides to continue on as to show that Islam will not win.
France is a free country.
The 3rd of February, the number of subscriptions came up from 10’000 to 200’000 and 4 million people demonstrated in the streets the 10th and 11th of January.
Is censorship a good idea? Should the Government have censored the newspaper?
The world is made of so many different cultures. Is there a Cultural Relativism? Universal moral codes? Cultures will have different moral codes and therefore, there is no objective universal right and wrong. Important moral differences are pointed out around the world. For example, Greeks believed that it was wrong to eat their dead whereas the Callatians believed it was right. So eating the dead is morally a matter of opinion.
Can we consider making caricatures of Mahomet to be morally a matter of opinion. In some societies it is considered as a crime against humanity.
Maybe it would have been wise to take into account what is morally forbidden in other cultures. But people will then argue that some acts are morally and universally wrong. For example in the Muslim religion, an unfaithful woman can be condemned to die, is this punishment deserved? Can European cultures understand this?
Cultures also share same values such as protecting their children. A society where telling the truth is not essential is doomed to failure.
Cultural relativism has consequences on every society in the world. It has become forbidden to criticise other societies and even our own, leading to an attack on freedom of speech. Censorship is not good because it is an attack on democracy.