When I arrived home November 13th, my daughter told me that multiple locations in Paris had been bombed by terrorists and over 100 people were dead. In shock and horror, I, probably like much of our world, was and have been glued to TV and social media for the latest updates on the crisis. It could have been me. I went out to eat at a restaurant yesterday and I’ve been to just a few bars in my lifetime. I’ve been to a Seahawks game and at concerts rocking to my favorite bands. Full of life, full of joy, seemingly surrounded by friends.
I tried to write this blog yesterday, but I just couldn’t seem to focus. Today, while reviewing the links for this assignment, I went to the additional source on Media Ethics – The Magazine Serving Mass Communication Ethics. There, on the hero images scrolling by, was “The Charlie Hebdo Massacre Leaves Us with Painful Ironies” (Wasserman, 2015). I recognized Charlie Hebdo as the satirical magazine mentioned in yesterday’s broadcasts where a Paris terrorist attack in January left 17 people dead, from the time of the initial attack at the magazine and attacks at other locations until the suspects were killed three days later (BBC News, 2015). Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie) became the world’s stand against terrorism in support of freedom of speech.
The attacks yesterday in Paris were all at fairly small locations, except for the stadium where the French president was attending the soccer game. And today, we wake up to hear that the Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the most recent attacks, also warning “the first of a storm” (USA Today News, 2015). And that is the crux of it all…the threat may be empty, but it leaves us all feeling vulnerable. And now we feel vulnerable in local family-style settings, not just huge events or being in a large building surrounded by innocent people just like us. This tremendous sense of vulnerability causes us to reflect upon what we could have done to stop this from happening.
“Did I say something to make you mad or hurt your feelings?” is commonly asked in our personal lives when trying to resolve tensions and get to the root problem of an issue. Is that question related to what happened in Paris?
The freedom of speech and the use of new media are well-known for keeping our world in touch on a personal, individual level more than at any previous time in history. Charlie Hebdo combined freedom of speech and media, and anyone was considered their fair game, as summarized in the words of Ed Wasserman (2015) in his Media Ethics article:
“The Charlie team wasn’t exposing anything; they were hurling insults and poking fun. To me, that makes their slaughter disturbing for altogether different reasons. It represented an attempt to reshape French popular culture by redefining the boundaries of permissible social commentary, which for centuries has cherished a lusty strain of mean-spirited, profane, often outrageous, generally defamatory, abuse and derision.”
Michael J. Morrel, former deputy director of the CIA and now CBS News consultant, stated that the motive of the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo was “absolutely clear: trying to shut down a media organization that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad” (Bilefsky, et al, 2015). According to Google, lampoon is from the mid-17th century French word Iampons (let us drink or gulp down):
definition: publicly criticize (someone or something) by using ridicule, irony or sarcasm
synonyms: satirize, mock, ridicule, make fun of, caricature, burlesque, parody, tease, informal roast
Wow. I know we have the right to use freedom of speech to do such, but should we? Do we have a moral, ethical and legal obligation to treat others with respect and tolerance?
In the KUOW podcast, The Moral Dilemma of Advertising, Seattle Mayor (July, 2011), Mike McGinn discussed his position to withdraw the City of Seattle’s advertising dollars from Seattle Weekly magazine. The online version of Seattle Weekly included a link to their “adult classified ad website”, Backpage.com, which Mayor McGinn claimed had been directly linked to advertising of 22 children exploited for prostitution. McGinn had recently met with executives of Village Voice (the parent company) and Seattle Weekly, urging them to utilize the advertising screening methods of the Seattle Weekly for ads accepted by Backpage.com. Seattle Weekly requires advertisers to place ads in person in their Seattle office, where identification is verified. Such is not the case for Backpage.com advertisers who are located worldwide and place ads online.
I fully support Mayor McGinn’s efforts to encourage a business to hold a higher moral standard and take action to better protect our children. Podcast comments by Mike Seely, Seattle Weekly Editor-in-Chief, were counterpoints I expected he would offer and I am grateful that the company takes action to report suspicious ads to the police and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (Scher, 2015). However, I find it saddening that Mayor McGinn’s actions would not be legally supported…because he is acting while in the capacity of a government official and dictating allocation of government funds.
It’s been so long since I studied the US Constitution and the First Amendment that I did not realize McGinn’s actions of financial pressure and policy requests were legally infringing on “freedom of the press” as noted in detail during the podcast by Michele Earl-Hubbard and Jane Kirtley, both lawyers with extensive background in media and government law and ethics. If Mike McGinn was instead a wealthy businessman who wanted to do the same, he would have been legally protected to take these actions as an American citizen exercising his right to “freedom of speech.”
Kirtley and Earl-Hubbard also discussed the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996, in which it appears that our government has stepped in to limit freedom of speech while upholding moral principles, seemingly contradicting the “freedom of press” issue, but only as it applies to online media, not other forms. In 1995, Senator James Exxon (D-Neb.) began an effort to regulate speech on the internet, motivated out of his concern for the proliferation of pornography and indecency on the internet that is easily accessible by youth in America (Cannon, 1996). This is an example of the government taking action, and winning, to limit free speech.
Cannon clarified that the intent of the CDA is to target providers, not access providers or users. So in the words used in the podcast, the target providers would be the person placing the advertisement, and the access providers would be companies such as Backpage.com, Naughty Northwest or craigslist (a company who voluntarily removed such ads from their website). My astonishment is that the publishers of such content are held blameless, only the advertiser is held legally responsible. If I understand correctly, both would be held responsible if the medium was print, radio or television. In my opinion, the internet, which is ever-increasingly our primary form of written and video communication, should be held to the same standards established for print, radio and television communication and vice versa. It makes no sense to protect our population differently based on the form of media.
In light of what’s happened in Paris this year, would the article “Will a State of Emergency Be Used to Supersede Our Constitution?” have been nice for Americans to read, instead of it being part of the Top 25 news articles that didn’t make the news? (Project Censored, 2012). If you didn’t catch that censored 2011 article, you might find this interesting to know:
“Recent “Continuity of Government” planning has quietly removed time-honored constitutional protections and increased the militarization of civilian law enforcement. Recently, the US Army established an active-duty brigade trained to manage civil unrest and crowd control. Historically this has been illegal, according to the longstanding Posse Comitatus statutes. It should concern us all that there has been a loss of local authority and sustained preparations for the possibility of martial law.”
Our daily news is filled with stories about people so mad that they bully kids at school, start a fight at a bar and kill someone, physically abuse someone, etc., etc., etc. Most of us may think we are insulated from such atrocities, but then we go over safety drills in our college because gunmen have once again killed students at several schools in two weeks. We are not insulated. One of us could have been killed with Nohemi Gonzalez, the 23 year old senior design major from California State University-Long Beach, who is the first American fatality in the Paris attacks last night, killed while having dinner at a restaurant with fellow students (NBC News, 2015). It could have been you and me at dinner with Nohemi or in a classroom with friends at any one of the 23 college campuses where students were killed in 2015 so far. The most recent was at the first college I attended, Northern Arizona University.
I am worn out by the harsh words I’ve read and heard in doing this assignment. Why do we have to be so mean to each other? Why is there such a constant struggle over I’m right and you’re wrong and you better believe what I believe or else!? Tears well up in my eyes every time I see pictures of Paris, except for ones like these that make my heart feel hope as the world joins hands.
Paul Levinson’s podcast on TTBOOK (2011) introduced us to Marshall McLuhan who I never knew, and appeared to be a great man of wisdom before his death in 1980. I leave you with a few of his many quotes, relating so poignantly to our discussion of ethics and legal issues in media (BrainyQuote, 2015):
- The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.
- All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.
- A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.
- There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.
So as Woody in Toy Story encourages us, “Play nice!”
BBC News. (2015, January 14). Charlie Hebdo attack: Three days of terror. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30708237
Bilefsky, D., & De la Baume, M. (2015, January 7). Terrorists Strike Charlie Hebdo Newspaper in Paris, Leaving 12 Dead. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/world/europe/charlie-hebdo-paris-shooting.html?_r=1
BrainyQuote. (2015). Marshall McLuhan Quotes. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/marshall_mcluhan.html
Cannon, R. (1996, November). The Legislative History of the Communications Decency Act. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.cybertelecom.org/cda/cannon2.htm#N_2_
Garrity, P., & Dong, S. (2015, November 14). American Student Nohemi Gonzalez Identified as Victim in Paris Massacre. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/paris-terror-attacks/american-student-nohemi-gonzalez-idd-victim-paris-massacre-n463566
Google. (2015). Lampoon definition. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=lampooned%20definition
Levinson, P. (2011, July 24). Paul Levinson on “Digital McLuhan” [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.ttbook.org/book/paul-levinson-digital-mcluhan
McGinn, M. (2011). Letter from Seattle Mayor to Village Voice. Retrieved from http://mayormcginn.seattle.gov/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/709-Mayor-McGinn-letter-to-Jim-Larkin-CEO-Village-Voice-Media-LLC-01JUL2011-T-MM.pdf
Project Censored. (2011, September 30). Top 25 of 2012: #13. Will a State of Emergency Be Used to Supersede Our Constitution? Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.projectcensored.org/13-will-a-state-of-emergency-be-used-to-supersede-our-constitution/
Project Censored. (2012). Censored 2012: Top 25 Stories of 2010–2011. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.projectcensored.org/the-top-25-index/
Sanburn, J. (2015, October 1). These are All the College Campus Shootings in 2015.Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/4058669/northern-arizona-university-school-shootings-2015/
Scher, S. (2011, July 21). The Moral Dilemma of Advertising [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www2.kuow.org/program.php?id=23975
US Courts. (2015). What Does Free Speech Mean? Retrieved from http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/educational-resources/about-educational-outreach/activity-resources/what-does
USA Today News. (2015, November 14). ISIS Warns French Attacks – The First of a Wave [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/media/cinematic/video/75773990/
Wasserman, E. (2015, April). The Charlie Hebdo Massacre Leaves Us with Painful Ironies. Media Ethics, 26(2). Retrieved from http://www.mediaethicsmagazine.com/index.php/browse-back-issues/194-spring-2015-vol-26-no-2/3999064-the-charlie-hebdo-massacre-leaves-us-with-painful-ironies