Friday 18 January 2019

Freedom of expression won't be stymied by terror

Gerry Curran

We are all united in disbelief and disgust at the happenings last week in Paris. A week when creative journalists and brave police officers were singled out and gunned down - simply for doing their jobs.

A week when even the word revulsion seemed inadequate as a response.

A week when we all have had to stop and ask: 'What are we allowing to go on in our world? Are we creating this? How do we stop it?'

Attempting to explore answers to those questions is for another day.

It may seem new to many that the offices of a newspaper are attacked and journalists killed - and indeed it is unusual and has hardly ever occurred in Western Europe.

That it is so unusual in these times, in this part of the world, made it ever more shocking - as did the fact it happened in Paris, where the prize and rights of media freedom, personal liberty and the separation of civic and religious society were so hard-fought for by so many.

A cold, pre-meditated, violent attack in the circumstances of a free society is nothing more than an attack on liberty of the person, on democracy and on society itself.

We can be thankful for the people of Paris and France. They never take anything lying down. Their public outcries, marches, vigils, protests, mourning, defiance and solidarity - all displayed spontaneously and constantly this week - is what we have come to expect from Parisians.

This past week they did not let down the democratic world or the dead journalists and police officers.

And why would they? Having rallied to save their Republic twice in the last century, we are all very familiar with the wonder of a Paris-based protest, a national march which brings the city to a standstill, a strike the likes of which other trade unionists can only marvel at: Parisians do protest and protection very well.

It was fitting their response to these events was to take to the streets.

We offer the condolences of the journalistic and creative communities of this Republic as we join with them in mourning the murderous loss of the journalistic and creative communities of their Republic.

We also offer our condolences for the loss of police officers; one who died trying to stop the murder of journalists; another coldly slain as he lay injured from pursuing the same gunmen.

Journalists died for drawing lines on paper. Police officers died protecting the thin blue line between society and lawlessness.

Subsequent to this, hostages were injured and killed as well. All of this culminated in a horror story.

Our hearts are broken for the loss and we offer our love and support to the people of France.

It is not unusual across the globe for journalists to be targeted because of what they do. This is in no way to dilute the horror of this week, but rather to illuminate the danger the journalistic community operates within globally. In the past two decades, over 600 journalists have been targeted and murdered. Many more have been seriously threatened, injured or tortured.

We live in a world where journalists are the prey of those who do not want their activities reported.

The targeted group killings in France last week are thankfully unique for us living in the EU, but all too familiar to colleagues in other parts of the world.

We went to sleep on Wednesday night with heavy hearts, knowing these killings had been an execution of journalists and police officers for simply doing their jobs.

When we awoke to the morning headlines - to the extensive, honest reporting of these atrocities, and to the wit and satire of cartoonists across the global media - we knew the purveyors of terror had failed to assassinate journalism or stymie freedom of expression.

For that, we can be grateful and gain strength: as gatherers of news, as those who shine light onto what happens in the shadows.

Not to continue to report and comment with passion and energy would be a dilution of democracy and a corruption of our humanity. To live in fear gives a victory to terror, to shy away from truth-telling allows liars corrupt the public sphere.

The people of France have shown us they will allow neither. We stand with them by expressing our sorrow and solidarity.

Vive la France.

Gerry Curran is Cathaoirleach of the National Union of Journalists.

Irish Independent

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