Most people want newspapers to republish the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons, which some argue would be too offensive or dangerous
Following the deadly shooting at the offices of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, many pointed to the magazine’s history of printing controversial cartoons mocking Islam and depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad, as the likely inspiration for the attack. Those reporting on the story were presented with a dilemma – publish the cartoons and risk reprisals while offending innocent Muslim readers; refrain, and potentially keep newsworthy material from readers while appearing to bend to terrorist demands.
In YouGov’s latest poll for the Sunday Times, the views of the public on the matter are clear: news organizations should reprint the cartoons.
Asked to choose between newsworthiness and “stand[ing] up to the terrorists” against offending innocent Muslims and putting news staff at risk, 63% opt for the former, while just 22% say the cartoons should not be published.
When the question is framed more generally, 71% say the media has a stronger obligation to publish newsworthy items than to avoid offending the religious views of some people.
By 60 to 24 the public also favour generally allowing newspapers and magazines to publish articles or drawings “deliberately mocking and ridiculing religious figures like Jesus or Mohammed”. Asked specifically about permitting news organisations to publish “drawings, pictures or cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed” – a taboo in the Muslim faith – the responses were similar, with 68% in favour and 17% opposed.
Traditional news outlets have generally erred on the side of caution in dealing with the issue. Most major British newspapers have opted against reprinting the more controversial Charlie Hebdo covers, a policy also adopted at the New York Times, the Associated Press and other news organisations. Meanwhile newer, online outfits like Buzzfeed, Slate and Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept have published images of the covers.
On Saturday a German newspaper that republished the Mohammed cartoons suffered an arson attack.