A publication of the World Editors Forum


Fri - 15.12.2017

Charlie Hebdo asks which is better: to be 'responsible' or 'irresponsible'?

Charlie Hebdo asks which is better: to be 'responsible' or 'irresponsible'?

Following its last highly controversial issue which featured cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed, satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has printed two editions this week, one "responsible" and one "irresponsible." Last week’s cartoons mocked the explosive reaction to the film "The Innocence of Muslims" by parodying a popular French film, "Untouchables," and portrayed Muhammad in a series of poses, in one of which he is naked.

In addition to the standard issue, this week’s "responsible" edition of Charlie Hebdo contains no pictures and very little text – the clear message being that to be "responsible" is extremely limiting and does not actually mean doing real journalism. Aside from an editorial from Stéphane Charbonnier, or Charb, the weekly’s publisher, the paper only contains headlines and blank spaces. The ironic headlines include “Tunisia – all is well,” “Morocco – all is well,” “Egypt – all is well” and “Libya – all is well,” following by “Mali – all is going very well.” Others include “Prudence is the mother of safety” and “Do you know how to plant cabbages?”

In the editorial, Charb picks up on the criticisms it has be hit with during the past week and explains that “In order to satisfy Laurent Fabius [France’s foreign minister], Brice Hortefeux [an opposition MP] and Tariq Ramadan [professor of Islamic studies at Oxford], Charlie Hebdo will put no more 'oil on the fire,' nor will it 'blow on the embers,' and it will never again be 'irresponsible.'” Charlie will never again comment on breaking news, he writes, will never try to make people laugh with subjects that might shock, will never forget that they must take into account “the susceptibility of the Benghazi Salafists” and will subject its cartoons each week to a censorship committee overseen by the Union of Islamic Organisations in France, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France and representatives of the pope.

If Charlie Hebdo does this, the highly ironic editorial continues, nobody else will caricature contentious issues, and “everyone will be happy and the world will be more beautiful.”

Meanwhile, the “irresponsible” edition of Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were firebombed last year following its "Charia Hebdo" issue, features a cartoon on its cover depicting a caveman holding some oil and some fire, titled “The invention of humour.” The editorial in this issue tackles the criticism that the paper has received from a different angle. It calls for “The end of the fear of Islam,” saying that the media and public figures promote excessive fear of Muslim extremists, and, for example, "Salafist" is used particularly to inspire fear.

The editorial also responds to the criticism that Charlie Hebdo published last week’s cartoons just to make money. All media are trying to make money, Charb writes, and points out that in 20 years, Charlie Hebdo has produced this kind of bestseller issue just three times. “Why wouldn’t we do this every week, if we really did have a magic formula?” he asks.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian newspaper has responded to last week’s cartoons by publishing its own cartoon series, the BBC reported. Al-Watan, a secular daily, published a 12-page section on Monday responding to Charlie Hebdo. As well as 13 cartoons, the section included articles by well-known secular writers, the BBC said.

Charlie Hebdo's two editions, each priced at €2.50, make an interesting point and offer a convincing defence of the paper's actions. But is it always true that being "responsible" equates to being stifled? Where should the line be drawn between free expression that inspires debate, and material whose only aim is to offend?


Emma Goodman


2012-09-26 16:32


Thu, 2012-09-27 19:53 — B3man (not verified)

This is not negotiable. Freedom and liberty for all is the only path to mankind's overall eternal happiness. Always, always believe in the people and let the people separate the "wheat from the chaff" and always allow for all sources of freedom and liberty to exist and thrive. As the often used saying goes, in such an open and free society, you can always turn "it" off if you are offended by the words (the TV, the radio, the computer, the smart phone, etc). After all, you should be stronger of character to do so.

Thu, 2012-09-27 16:08 — Ronnie Schreibe (not verified)

Where should the line be drawn between free expression that inspires debate, and material whose only aim is to offend?

That line shouldn't be drawn. Free speech is the right to offend. "Insulting" a religion, a religious leader, or someone's god is not and should never be a crime. 

It's completely possible to criticize one of those things without resorting to bigotry or ethnic bias and one should have the right to criticize those things without fear of violence or being called racist or "Islamophobic". 

Free expression is not free if you don't have the right to make material whose only aim is to offend. Sticks and stones might break my bones but names will never hurt me.

Islamists have no interest in religious freedom and we should not allow them to dictate to us what free speech means. Actually, think about that for a second. Many in the Muslim world think they have the right to tell us what free speech means. How insanely absurd is that?

I have the right to blaspheme my religion, your religion, any religion.

Thu, 2012-09-27 17:53 — Anonymous (not verified)

That line should never be drawn, because once it is, it can always be moved.

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