Sad times for free expression

January 09,2015

Charlie Hebdo

Journalists and free expression-loving people all over the world struggled for words to describe the terrorist attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris last Tuesday evening (Manila time).

Masked gunmen had entered the newsroom and  killed 12 people, including the newspaper’s editor, as they shouted “Allahu akbar!” while firing, then fleeing in a car.

As an expression of solidarity, people in France and elsewhere in the world went out on  the streets, posted on social media “Je sui Charlie” and “I am Charlie.”

France has declared a day of national mourning. It should be a day of lamentation for all societies.

The attack highlights a division along religious and political lines.

While freedom of expression is an inviolable right in libertarian societies, other people have low tolerance for it, especially when faith is at question.

Why this deadly attack became possible in a city known for its libertarian culture sends a chilling message about the pervasiveness of bigotry and intolerance in  an  era when conflicts are not between nations but non-state actors who profess theocratic ideologies.

How states protect  civil liberties, among the most esteemed — freedom of expression —   remains a serious challenge.

Not to be swept under the rug was the killing in the Philippines of Bataan correspondent of the tabloid, Abante correspondent Nerlita Ledesma also last Tuesday.

While we acknowledge the global threat to free expression in the Paris attack, framed locally, the threat to free expression in the Philippines is compounded by a  continuing culture of impunity.

According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), 171 journalists have been killed since 1986.

While  attacks cannot stop the media  from freely expressing  ideas, it does not help if we deny the dangers that come with the exercise.

Dissent and ideological differences should not come at the price of human lives.

As the NUJP stated “no mode of expression, however offensive or unethical it may be, deserves a death sentence.”


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