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Shorts

A new era of limiting speech

Charlie Hebdo Paris terror attacks
A memorial to those killed in a terror attack at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France. – Image credit: Flickr / Valentina Calà

Limiting the press’ voice is not a new trend because of the power the media has: when one controls the message, one controls the people. When rebels declare war on a government, they first fight for control of the media to spread their message to the masses. Now that anyone with an Internet connection can become a media outlet, it’s becoming a lot harder for one entity to control the flow of the message to the populous. And with the changing landscape of the media, the way to control the press has changed as well.

Controlling the press reached new levels on January 7 when masked gunmen attacked the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo killing 12 including two national police officers. Among the dead was the current editor-in-chief Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier – who drew the controversial 2011 cover of a cartoon version of the Prophet Muhammad, whose depiction is forbidden in Islam.

The attacks were commended by leaders of Islam, heads of state and media organizations. Journalists across the globe not only denounced the attack but boasted the message of a world where the press was free to report.

“There is no democracy without journalism,” CBS News anchorman Scott Pelly stated at the end of Friday’s CBS Evening News broadcast. “The strength of a nation depends on the quality of its’ information . . . The enemy knows our vulnerability. Silence is the end of freedom.”

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The press has always been stifled about what to report well before the attacks on Charlie Hebdo but they contain to threats of lawsuits, advertisers, or corporate interests.

Live in China, Russia or China? The state government tells you what to say.

Write about Scientology? Expect a call from their attorneys.

A deadly side effect on a popular drug? The report gets pulled because the drug manufacture of said drug advertises on the network.

A glamorous report on the administration? The opposing political side attacks you for spreading the president’s message. A scathing report on the said administration? The current political side attacks you for attacking the president.

We got to see a pure example of media threatening last month with the Sony hack.

To stop the endless reports of sensitive (and embarrassing) emails that became public by hackers the US government claimed were commissioned by the North Koreans, Sony Pictures threatened to sue media companies for publishing the contents of hijacked email accounts. One of those media outlets was The Verge, who published a damning report of the MPAA (Motion Pictures Assoication of America) soliciting state attorney generals to compel Google into blocking search results of sites that contain pirated content.

Some media outlets did comply with the demand, others continued. Even today, media outlets are still combing through the private-now-turned-public emails.

The chilling of the media is not a new trend, it’s been going on for some time. But the trend is turning deadly.

Reporters Without Borders estimated that 66 journalists were killed in 2014, including 7 deaths committed by the terrorist group ISIS: Five at Salaheddin TV when a suicide bomb went off at the station’s headquarters in Tikrit, Iraq and two American journalists – a freelancer and one working for TIME magazine and the Jerusalem Post.

Now enter the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the message has been sent: stop reporting or face violence.

The press will continue to do reporting. Just expect less hard-hitting reports and more stores on who won at the Golden Globes and what Tina Fey and Amy Poehler said last night.