My views on Charlie Hebdo attack, satire and freedom of expression

N.B – A TV public affairs show where I was invited as guest emailed five questions in preparation for a taped panel discussion. We had our taping last night (January 21) and I deem it necessary to share my answers as early as now.

What is your take on Satirical Journalism or News Satire? Does it fall outside the traditional understanding of responsible and sensitive journalism?

Satire is part of the history of Philippine journalism dating back to the Spanish period (e.g., Fray Botod essay Lopez Jaena). Even during the time of Martial Law, the satirical publication Sic of the Times played a major role in exposing the evils of the Marcos regime by poking fun at the powers-that-be.

When we talk about Freedom of Expression, how free is free?

Freedom of expression, just like freedom of the press, is not absolute. Aside from laws, there are standards as defined by the Code of Ethics that define the parameters for the responsible use of such freedom. While laws are mandatory, codes of ethics are essentially voluntary but are still necessary to better exercise basic freedoms.

Pope Francis made a statement: “You have an obligation to speak openly. We have that freedom. Without causing offense. It is true, we cannot react violently. But if Dr. Gasbarri here, a great friend, were to say something insulting against my mother, a punch awaits him. But it’s normal, it’s normal. You cannot make provocations. You cannot insult people’s faith” ( What do you think of this statement?

The Pope’s statement is consistent with the Filipino Journalist’s Code of Ethics which explicitly states that “I shall not, in any manner, ridicule, cast aspersions on, or degrade any person by reason of sex, creed, religious belief, political conviction, cultural and ethnic origin.” In essence, insulting a religion cannot be done as we tend to disrespect freedom of worship. This should be differentiated from fair commentary on the actions, say, of a Church that runs contradictory to its teachings like corruption and pedophilia. We have to ensure, however, that such commentary is based on arduous and conscientious research and that the reportage is objective.

The Charlie Hebdo attack happened in Paris. How is this relevant to our country and its people, even it’s miles and miles away?

The Charlie Hebdo attack reflects that the culture of impunity happens on a global scale. While the Philippines is known as a dangerous place in the world to practice journalism given the magnitude of media killings, it cannot be denied that the brazen manner in which media workers are killed could happen elsewhere, even in developed countries like France.

Do you give yourself limitations when making an editorial piece? What are they, what do you keep in mind?

Regardless of journalistic output, research is important. Writing editorials is no exception as a news organization’s analysis and stand should be based on evidence, carefully weighing the different sides to a story. The code of ethics should also be kept in mind in order not to engage the readers in truth-telling and in minimizing harm to those who would be the subject of fair commentary/criticism.

Personal Blog of Danny Arao

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