January 7, 2015 5:36 pm
Updated: January 8, 2015 1:22 pm

Charlie Hebdo attack raises questions about press freedom

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WATCH: Concerns over freedom of expression have been heightened in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shooting massacre. Sean Mallen reports.

TORONTO – Wednesday’s terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, a satirical magazine in Paris, France that was known for repeated satirical criticism of religion has stirred a debate about how media organizations should balance freedom of expression and freedom of religion and whether they should publish images of the prophet Muhammad.

A petition on Change.org has so far (as of 3:00 p.m. ET) garnered over 1,500 signatures calling on “all journalists around the world to publish the full and uncensored cartoons of Charlie Hebdo‘s ‘La vie de Mahomet’ as an act of solidarity.”

Tom Henheffer, the executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, suggested editors need to choose whether they publish the images or not but insisted journalists shouldn’t censor themselves because of this attack.

“There of course needs to be a balance between tolerance and free expression. That’s something that always needs to happen but what we cannot do is allow events like this to censor ourselves,” he said.

“That is exactly what these guys want to happen. And it shows then that attacks like this can be effective, which can just make things that much worse.”

WATCH: National Post columnist Christie Blatchford believes all news organizations should stand up in the face of acts like the shooting at Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and show they can’t be bullied.

In the hours following the attack, newspapers around the world were faced with the decision of whether or not to publish images of Muhammad.

READ MORE: Why was Charlie Hebdo newspaper targeted in the Paris shooting?

British newspaper The Telegraph was the target of criticism shortly after the attacks after it posted an image of one of the magazine’s covers with a caricature of Muhammad blurred out.

And according to Buzzfeed News, the Associated Press refuses to move “deliberately provocative images” such as those depicting Muhammad.

“That’s really a decision that each person has to make on their own. I can tell you this, provocative satire is important. When things are pushing the envelope, it’s out on the edge,” Henheffer said.

“Free expression is something where the borders are always getting a little bit tighter. And if you’re not defending what’s on the edges, then pretty soon the edges come close to the middle.”

Frank, a satirical magazine based in Ottawa, told Global News Wednesday it plans on republishing some of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons out of “solidarity.”

And according to a tweet from Frank, the CBC has decided not to use images of Muhammad.

The CBC clarified its position in an email to Global News, saying they will show images of Charlie Hebdo cartoons, including “those depicting Islam” but will not “knowingly show images of the prophet Muhammad.” CBC’s head of public affairs Chuck Thompson said in the email the editorial decision is “not a ban, and it isn’t censorship.”

Global News has a policy of using images of Muhammad within context but, according to vice president of news Troy Reeb “we should never use such images gratuitously, nor will we self-censor out of fear.”

Watch video coverage of Wednesday’s attack here:

Wednesday’s attack is not the first time cartoonists or writers have been attacked for criticizing Muhammad. Mohamed Geele, a Somali man living in Denmark, attacked cartoonist Kurt Westergaard at his home in 2010 after he caricatured the prophet.

Nor is it the first time the Paris magazine was attacked. The Charlie Hebdo offices were firebombed in November 2011 after an issue featured a caricature of the prophet on its cover. No one was injured in the attack.

The magazine published similar cartoons in September 2012, which drew condemnation from around the Muslim world. Paris police reportedly asked Charbonnier to reconsider publishing the images at the time.

Stephane Charbonnier, the magazine’s chief editor and cartoonist who went by the pen name Charb, defended the cartoons at the time.

“Muhammad isn’t sacred to me,” he said in a past interview with the AP. “I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law; I don’t live under Quranic law.”

READ MORE: Canada reacts to Paris newspaper attack #JeSuisCharlie

Islam considers images of religious figures like Muhammad to be highly blasphemous.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair held a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa Wednesday. He said he was coming to the “home” of journalists in Ottawa to “show the importance of standing up to this type of senseless and cowardly act.”

WATCH: Thomas Mulcair says “we cannot allow ourselves to be silenced by cowardly acts.”

He called on journalists to stand up for freedom of expression while balancing people’s freedom of religion.

“With regards to freedom of expression, it’s freedom of expression. And that’s why it’s one of our fundamental freedoms and that’s why we’ve got to stand up for it and hold ourselves in solidarity with those who practice a trade where not everyone’s always going to agree with what we say,” he said. “That being said, I think it’s also very important that we always show a great deal of respect for each other and our religious practices but freedom of religion includes respect for other people’s religions.”

But Christie Blatchford, a columnist for the National Post urged newspapers everywhere to publish images of Muhammad.

“Now I think the conversation is, in newsrooms today, is can we all make sort of a statement on this, publish something on all of our pages that will show not just that we sympathize with the Charlie Hebdo people in the magazine, but just that we have a fraction of their courage,” she said.

“Our only weapons are our pens, and our newspapers and our TV screens. So we should not just say ‘Je Suis Charlie’ today, we should do what Charlie did and stick our necks out just a smidgen.”

Blatchford tweeted images depicting the religious figure throughout the day Wednesday, tweeting along with each photo “Je suis Charlie” or “Ils sont Charlie,” a reference to the social media campaign “Je Suis Charlie” that was started in solidarity with the murdered satirists.

-With files from Sean Mallen and The Canadian Press

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