Mon | Sep 21, 2020

Freedom's no free-for-all

Published:Tuesday | January 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM


Freedom of expression, of which freedom of the press forms a critical element, is one of the cornerstones of a parliamentary democracy. Along with freedom of expression comes responsibility.

The trouble is that responsibility is not closely defined and is fundamentally a matter of conscience and fairness. The Press Association of Jamaica has, since its establishment in l943, preached that freedom of the press goes hand in hand with responsibility, and, in fact, has formulated a code of ethics for journalists that emphasises certain responsibilities.

However, while the journalists' organisation has signed on to responsibility in the form of a code of ethics, the publishers' body has been dragging its feet, and the situation is mainly covered by the conscience and fairness of individual journalists.

The recent attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, in which l2 people were killed, including the magazine's head cartoonist, by Islamic gunmen who said the attack was retribution for its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, has brought the whole matter of freedom of the press and responsibility of journalists into sharp focus.

God and politics

The editor of Charlie Hebdo has expressed the view that if God became entangled in politics, democracy is in danger. "We do not attack religion (generally), but we do when it gets involved in politics," he said.

This means that dabbling in politics, as certain sections of the Islamic faith have been doing, makes a religion fair target for criticism. But response should be in the form of countercriticism, not murder and brutality.

On the other hand, Pope Francis says one cannot insult, or make fun of, other people's faith.

One of the first lessons I learned as a journalist is not to laugh at other people's religion. Jamaican journalists have largely abided by this mantra.

I would be angry if a Muslim were to depict my God naked in a whorehouse with a prostitute. Incidentally, Islam cannot escape criticism for the murderous acts a few of its members have carried out. I have read the Holy Qur'an (English translation) twice and have not found in it any justification for the murder and brutality being carried out.