Newhouse School Free Speech Expert Worries Paris Killings Could Have Chilling Effect on Expression

Jan 8, 2015

A free speech expert at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School says it’s a sad state of affairs when so many people are targeted at a satirical Paris newspaper for freedom of expression.  Roy Gutterman is director of S-U’s Tully Center for Free Speech.

Gary Varvel of the Indianapolis Star drew this cartoon in response to the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
Credit Gary Varvel/Indianapolis Star / hereandnow.wbur.org

"Unfortunately, it looks like it's a trend.  Extremists dealing with content they disagree with.  Violence is no way to answer rhetoric or offensive jokes or anything like that.  But, that seems to be our world today."

 He says most attacks on the press are more isolated kidnappings or killings of one or two reporters, but very rarely a mass murder.  Gutterman says it could have a chilling effect on journalists and cartoonists across the globe.

 "Why would anybody risk making a joke or publishing some content that may enflame extremists.  Some people are going to say why kick the hornet's nest, why take  chance on something that may enflame people."

 At the same time, Gutterman acknowledges the greatest way to confront this is with more speech...

 "It's nice to see people taking a stand, and ordinary people who are outside the press world coming forward and supporting free speech and free press, and it's nice to see cartoonists who are seeing this and not cowering."

Gutterman says he’s always wary of drawing that line between free speech and potentially offensive content because everyone reacts differently.  He says it’s unfortunate we’ve gotten to a point where journalists and cartoonists might feel they need to censor themselves to avoid offending certain people.