The Charlie Hebdo killings have put journalism in the front line: so respond responsibly

Today I started research on a documentary about how journalists should deal with the surfeit of frightening, horrific news in our lives: then along comes the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

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I am sure it is not just journalists who feel viscerally appalled by this very deliberate, callous, meticulous and brutal act of murder. Cowardly and at scale against (almost) defenseless people at work in their offices.

There are some obvious things that have been said already. It should make us more proud to defend the values that have been assaulted; the attackers don’t ‘represent’ any religion; any political response characterised by hatred or revenge will aid the murderers, not the cause of tolerance and freedom of expression.

People should — and are — uniting in a message of hope and solidarity to balance the fear. The #JeSuisCharlie hashtag is just one example of a healthy social media response. People are using social networks to gather in protest across Europe.

I am also impressed by what I have seen of the rolling news networks’ restraint in not showing graphic imagery and not hyping what is already a hyper-horrific event.

This is how the positive/negative equation of news works today. Yes, we know more quickly and more immediately and more extensively about horrors like this. However, the humanising context is also more present, more immediately.

What struck me was how weird it is that these people — and they do deserve the label ‘terrorist’ — have struck against cartoonists. Not drone manufacturers or military bases, diplomats, politicians or financiers, but satirists. It shows what we should have already known. That journalism is part of the ideological war. It is the front-line.

That makes it all the more important that journalists respond thoughtfully and responsibly. I am not going to tell editors what they should publish in relation to this story. But it would be good if their response is in the best tradition of liberal, positive journalism and not just an angry, lashing out that feeds the fear that helps sustain those who perpetrate the violence.

This is the kind of thing I mean. Sharp, dignified, poignant responses by cartoonists around the world in solidarity:

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Written by

Journalist, LSE media professor, Polis think-tank director. Writes about journalism, UK & global politics

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