Embrace the freedom to speak your mind

Charlie Hebdo Demonstrations Across France
Thousands of people gather during a demonstration march in Marseille, France, on Jan. 10, in support of the victims of the attacks in Paris. (Launette Florian/Maxppp/Zuma Press/TNS)

Words are some of the strongest tools we carry around with us every day. With them, we can inspire and empower, or we can infuriate and provoke. We are given unbridled freedom of speech and expression, and it is important to remember that this right is a bedrock tenet of a free society.

The Jan. 7 attack in Paris on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 people, eight of whom were journalists, has stirred both an uprising of unity in the strength of one’s right to free speech and expression and condemnation from citizens, politicians and religious figures around the world who believe the material to be deeply offensive.

News comes in various forms: newspapers, radio, television, media websites. Some are more factual than others, some more controversial, but they all have one thing in common — bringing the news to the audience and then allowing the reader to choose what to do with the information that they have received.

Here at The Signpost we are budding journalists who are stretching our limitations daily while we still have a safe support system at Weber State University. Although the circumstances of the content in Charlie Hebdo include more than just reporting the facts of a story, this event has made us think about journalistic ethics and the duty we have when informing our audience.

Journalists provide the world an opportunity to see the larger picture outside of the daily routine. As readers, we can allow their material to affect us negatively or positively. Either way, it provides us insight into a greater conversation we might want to be a part of. And many times, the controversial or offensive material is the catalyst for change.

Society of Professional Journalists President Dana Neuts said in regard to the attack on Charli Hebdo that “journalists around the world work every day to report the truth, enlighten the public and encourage people to think about all sides of issues important to society,” citing that we should all stand in solidarity against attacks on press freedoms.

Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier who was murdered in the Jan. 7 attack, told France’s Le Monde newspaper in 2012 “I prefer to die standing than live on my knees” when being questioned about the fear of threats against his life.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has confirmed that in 2014 61 journalists were killed worldwide, including 27 who were murdered. These journalists were covering beats that included human rights, war and politics, which have the highest percent of deaths. All of these journalists made the choice to risk their lives to bring corruption to the eyes of the world, and we should never forget their efforts to inform the public.

Enjoying the right to freedom of expression as we do in the United States means we have to tolerate and even think about viewpoints we not only disagree with but that heartily offend us. However, we must guarantee everyone’s right to expression in order to protect our own.