The western world doesn’t know what to do about freedom of speech.
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris (in which 12 people, including five renowned cartoonists, were killed for publishing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed), British prime minister David Cameron proposed shutting down any communications technology that refused to store data for government use.
Similarly, commentators in France have suggested introducing legislation similar to the US’s Patriot Act, the Pope has claimed, “You cannot make fun of the faith of others” and Saudi Arabia has come under fire for sentencing a blogger, who criticised the current regime, to 1000 lashes and a 10 year prison sentence.
Meanwhile, liberal groups in Australia have pointed out that a magazine like Charlie Hebdo would never be allowed in the country under its strict laws of discrimination.
So, where does that leave journalists? In a pretty tricky position.
Stick with your union?
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), although condemning the attacks in Paris, has also denounced support for Charlie Hebdo and what it refers to as, “the ‘celebration’ of this racist and islamophobic ‘satire’”.
While coming under fire from many journalists, the NUJ’s stance shows the dilemmas that many editors are facing.
Freedom of speech within newspapers comes down to editorial discretion. This is why publications like Private Eye are more willing to break stories on corruption than larger media groups – its editor doesn’t mind the occasional lawsuit.
Maverick or company man?
Ultimately, this all comes down to whether you are willing to toe the editorial line or not.
Would you follow the orders of your editor and not break a corruption story? Would you tone down a headline to avoid religious offence? These questions have become more prescient than ever.
The blogosphere, where reporters like political commentator Guido Fawkes or Scottish independence campaigners Wings over Scotland have thrived, is one option for journalists on the hunt for independent reportage.
However, the circulation of even the most popular independent blogs comes nowhere near to outstripping the major media groups. In most instances, you’d be shouting to a small group of people – and getting paid pittance for your troubles.
Your next option is to set up your own publication. Publishing courses at universities can give you the foundation you need for effective methods and advertising. Although you’ll be starting from zero, you would have your own say where the limits of taste lie.
These shaky times after the Charlie Hebdo attack have opened a new public awareness of the concept of freedom of speech and how it should be policed. And although editors might not always be onside with the freedom of the press, it’s up to you to ensure that your comments are never gagged.