Symposium on Charlie Hebdo attacks, implications on free speech held at MU

The symposium included speeches from students, professors and professionals.

For MU freshman Jack Herrick, the morning of Jan. 7 was unlike any other. In Paris at the time, Herrick was at the center of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks.

“I wandered into the city to find out where this had happened,” Herrick said in a speech at a symposium “Nous Sommes Tous Charlie” (We Are All Charlie) held Feb. 3. “I didn’t have a map, all I knew is that it was close to where our hotel was. When I got there, I was immediately surrounded by reporters of every nationality. I can’t even begin to describe the air of frenzy to you.”

At 11:30 a.m., two armed Islamist terrorists forced entry into the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Following the 50 gunshots fired, 11 were killed and 11 had been injured.

Held at the School of Journalism, the symposium was intended to promote discussion and shed light on these events from various perspectives.

“The Global Programs Office of Missouri really played a supporting role in this excellent idea,” said Fritz Cropp, MU School of Journalism Global Programs associate dean. “Anytime we have an opportunity to expose students to such a wide range of perspectives, we ought to do it.”

Offering these perspectives were MU professors Sandra Davidson and Marty Steffens, Ethical Journalism Network Director Aiden White, political cartoonist Khalil Bendib and Gareth Harding, MU School of Journalism Brussels Program director and panel moderator. The audienced filled the auditorium.

“I think this was long overdue,” Harding said. “We held this, along with a moment of silence, for our fellow journalists who died for merely speaking their opinions. It’s about time.”

With Harding directing the conversation, the audience had an open dialogue with the panel regarding the implications of the Charlie Hebdo attack on free speech, free press, ethics and journalistic credibility.

Audience members asked a number of questions regarding general attitudes of Islamophobia and how the media deals with graphic content and visuals like that of the video recording of attackers shooting a police officer at close range.

“Graphic videos like the one of the shooting are handled differently by the media,” White said. “I think the most important thing is to give journalists the freedom to decide how to distribute these things without fear of restraint.”

Following the commentary on the necessity of consideration for distributing stories to the public, Davidson said media outlets must interpret how the information will be perceived and what boundaries should be put in place.

“How much is necessary to preserve your credibility and how much makes it too inflammatory?” Davidson asked. “Is it necessary or is it gratuitous?”

Also heavily discussed was the role of nationalism in creating a feeling of solidarity and support against these attacks on free speech.

“I had never seen nor expected such French nationalism,” Herrick said of the days following the attacks. “The solidarity is something that I really appreciated. What does this mean to me (as a young journalist)? I want to be Charlie. I want to continue to be Charlie.”

On the issue of free speech, Davidson wrapped up the discussion powerfully.

“Words have consequences and they can put people in fear of their lives,” she said. “’But, as the saying goes, ‘I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’”

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