News agencies covering the attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo are debating whether to publish images of the prophet Muhammad that are considered offensive to many Muslims and may be central to the assault.
While past cartoons featuring Muhammad, including a 2011 Charlie Hebdo illustration that provoked a firebombing, appeared all day on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, news organizations including the Associated Press, CBC News and CNN aren’t showing the images at the center of the shootings of at least 12 people at the magazine’s Paris office.
“It’s been the AP policy for years that we refrain from moving deliberately provocative images,” Paul Colford, a spokesman for the newswire, said in an interview. Since much of the AP’s content is automatically distributed to newspapers and websites, “we will err on the side of caution for some instances.”
For CBC News, it’s also a continuation of existing policies put in place to respect “the mass of Muslim believers,” said Chuck Thompson, a spokesman for Canada’s national public broadcaster.
While CBC is showing Charlie Hebdo cartoons, including those depicting Islam, images featuring Muhammad are prohibited.
“This is not a ban, and it isn’t censorship,” Thompson said. “Similarly, we wouldn’t publish cartoons likely to dismay or outrage mainstream followers of other religions.”
The Danish daily Jyllands-Posten was assailed by some Muslims after it published cartoons representing Muhammad in 2005. Charlie Hebdo reprinted the same cartoons, which had prompted violent protests that left 50 people dead globally.
The French magazine is known for its scathing satire of a wide swath of figures from politicians to celebrities to religious figures. Its cover this week is on “Submission,” a novel by Michel Houellebecq released Wednesday that has sparked controversy with its depiction of a fictional France led by an Islamic party and a Muslim president. The 2011 firebombing came after it published a cover mocking Muhammad as a “guest editor” who threatened readers with “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.”
Meanwhile, CNN journalists are encouraged to verbally describe cartoons of Muhammad in detail, instead of showing the images, to help illustrate the tension between free expression and respect for religion, Politico said, citing an editorial memo.
“As this distressing story continues to evolve we are actively discussing the best way of addressing the key issues and images across all of our platforms,” Barbara Levin, a spokeswoman for the cable news network owned by Time Warner Inc. (TWX), said in an e-mail. “Those conversations will continue throughout the day and beyond as the story develops.”