The director of AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre, has condemned the “outrageous and cowardly” attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, describing it as a despicable assault on global media freedom.
Professor David Robie at AUT University, a strong advocate of media freedom in the Asia-Pacific region and manager of the Pacific Media Watch freedom project run in collaboration with the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB/RSF), said he was heartened by the weekly magazine’s courageous staff decision to continue its struggle for freedom and go ahead with the next edition in spite of the killing of 12 people by masked gunmen in a raid on its editorial offices last week.
The saga ended on Friday when French police shot the two hijackers in a village north of Paris after a dramatic manhunt and double siege drama.
“This a terrible blow against freedom of expression and press freedoms everywhere and we should not allow such brutality to intimidate us.”
“In spite of the savagery of this attack against unarmed cartoonists and peaceful media co-workers by religious zealots, the pen will still remain mightier than the sword,” said Dr Robie.
“The global 'Je suis Charlie – I am Charlie' campaign is already evidence of the worldwide defence of freedom of expression against tyranny.”
The Pacific Media Centre in AUT’s School of Communication Studies publishes Pacific Scoop, PMC Online and houses the Pacific Media Watch freedom project.
The genesis of the Pacific Media Watch freedom project was the jailing of two Taimi ‘o Tonga journalists, Kalafi Moala and Filokalafi ‘Akau'ola, and a ‘whistleblowing’ pro-democracy member of Parliament in Ton ga, ‘Akilisi Pohiva, for alleged contempt in September 1996.
They were later freed by the Supreme Court in Tonga which ruled their imprisonment was unconstitutional. PMW played an important role in the campaign to free the three men, including organising a petition of more than 100 media signatures from the region.
More than 1500 people attended a “We are Charlie” rally in Auckland on Friday in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo and the democratic right of freedom of expression.
Dr Robie joined RWB/RSF in saying the attack on Charlie Hebdo was a tragic reminder of the dangers to which journalists covering sensitive religious issues are permanently exposed.
“Journalists are increasingly facing religious taboos and censorship that influential groups are trying to impose. Columnists, editorial writers and cartoonists are among the journalists who are most exposed to threats, prosecution and even physical attacks.”
Charlie Hebdo is regarded as highly critical of jihadist extremism having published many cartoons, including of the Prophet Muhammad.
“But it is equally critical in lampooning Christianity, Judaism and many other faiths,” Dr Robie said.
Ironically, one of the police officers gunned down was a brave Muslim defending the right to ridicule his faith.
“Humour and satire are important safety valves in our democratic societies. We must defend this right to free expression without fear or favour.”
However, Dr Robie said the killing of journalists and media workers with impunity in developing and authoritarian nations in the Asia-Pacific region far from the glare of the world’s press should not be overlooked.
The International Federation of Journalists reported a record 118 journalists and media workers being killed in 2014 with the highest death toll in Pakistan – 14 killings.
Dr Robie said the worst single attack on journalists was the 2009 Maguindanao, or Ampatuan, massacre on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao when 34 media staff were murdered among a total of 58 civilians in an ambush on an election motorcade.
“Nobody has yet been successfully prosecuted and jailed for this atrocity after five years, although more than 100 suspects are reportedly being ‘detained’.”
Je Suis Charlie
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