The Newspapers' Double-Standards on Charlie Hebdo

Ever since the hideous massacre of journalists at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, I’ve been relaying a pair of juxtaposed facts about the media coverage of the incident.  I am preparing a talk to some media studies students about the coverage, and I have just realised I have never properly blogged about what I noticed.
Better late than never, I’m doing that now.
First: On 8 January 2015 (the day after the massacre) almost every national newspapers chose to publish a picture depicting the moment when Ahmed Merabet was murdered by the Kouachi brothers.  There were two notable exceptions: The Guardian, which published pictures of vigils; and The Independent, which published a full page cartoon by Dave Brown.

Second: On 13 January 2015, none of the national newspapers chose to publish a picture of the newly pressed edition of Charlie Hebdo, which depicted a charicature of the Prophet Mohammed.
The partial exceptions to this were The Guardian and The Independent—the same two newspapers who chose not to lead with the Merabet murder on their front page.  The Guardian published a thumbnail version of the cover about two-thirds of the way down an online story.  The Independent published a photograph of the cover folded up, so only Mohammed’s hat can be seen.
independent hebdo cover
Taken together, I think these two editorial choices are noteworthy and instructive about the chilling effect of the attacks.  The newspapers were very happy to publish pictures on their front pages of an actual murder, and yet felt unable to publish pictures of a religious figure in charicature.  Surely the killing of Ahmet Merabet is far more obscene than a few brush-strokes?

Scotand and Northern Ireland

For the sake of completeness and accuracy, I should note that there was more diversity in the covers of newspapers published outside London.
In Scotland, The National also published an image of a vigil, while its sister paper The Herald ran with a picture of an injured person on a stretcher being tended to by paramedicas.  The Scotsman carried a version of the Merabet murder.  Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, The Belfast Telegraph ran with a picture of the victims and the perpetrators.

To my knowledge, none of these papers published the Charlie Hebdo cover following its publication on 13th January.

More editorial diversity outside the UK

Following the attacks, The Guardian and The Daily Express published fairly comprehensive round-ups of how the international media covered the massacre.  There was far greater diversity of cover image choices internationally than there was in the UK.  Many publications chose a cartoon or graphic image, rather than a photograph.

3 Replies to “The Newspapers' Double-Standards on Charlie Hebdo”

  1. “Felt unable” or chose not to? I can think of a number of reasons why the papers may have chosen not to publish the image that you wished that they had published.

    1. Yep. It’s possible that they would choose not to publish out of respect for Muslims.
      However, I don’t believe that was genuinely the case here. I think it’s because they are scared of being firebombed or worse.
      I’m confident in this assertion because of the newspapers’ collective track record in publishing insensitive material. I draw attention to the coverage of the Merabet murder as the closest and most obvious example.
      Also, the 13 January 2015 cover of Charlie Hebdo is unquestionably in the public interest. The editorial decisions to avoid it are egregious and noteworthy.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.