Wednesday, January 7, 2015

It's Not Cowardly to Protect Employees

We need to stop calling the leaders of media outlets who decide not to republish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons "cowards.”

Any reasonable person knows that free speech is a right to be celebrated and defended. Unfortunately, we live in a world filled with unreasonable people, who do unreasonable things for unreasonable reasons.  Wednesday’s demented exercise of religious vigilantism in Paris is an example of such an action. 

For those that beat their chest from the comfort of their twitter account and call a media outlet cowardly for deciding not to publish a cartoon, I urge you to put yourself in their shoes.  If you’re in charge of a newsroom full of tens, if not hundreds of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, is the publication of a certain cartoon worth endangering the well-being of even a single employee or the viability of a business that employs tens, hundreds or thousands of people?   

This is not a crisis of free speech.  This is a question of making choices that are best for specific organizations and their employees.  In fact, deciding not to publish the cartoons is an equally reasonable exercise in free speech as is the decision to publish the cartoons.     

Is it horrible and tragic that an editor needs to worry about religious fanatics storming his newsroom and executing his staff over a published cartoon?  Absolutely.  But if your mother, father, son or daughter were in that newsroom, what would you want that editor to do? 

For us, it’s a no-brainer.  We cover the story in depth but let our readers find the cartoon elsewhere if they so choose – something that anyone with a remote control or an internet connection and the ability to spell Google and Charlie Hebdo can accomplish in about 5 seconds.  Would we feel good about our decision?  No, but would we feel worse if a single employee was injured in part because of our decision to publish the cartoon?  Yes.   

For clarity, this is how we would exercise or right to free speech in this situation, it does not mean we think reprinting the cartoon is wrong.  Publishing the cartoons is an equally reasonable exercise free speech.  To suggest that either decision is right/wrong or courageous/cowardly is the real attack on free speech.    

We find criticizing free speech on the grounds that it’s not the right kind of free speech problematic, and the reactions to those who decide not to reprint Charlie Hebdo cartoons are just the latest example in this growing and disturbing phenomenon.


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