Freedom of Speech


Danish terrorist attack survivor: ‘It’s a fight that we can’t ignore’

The coffin of Danish filmmaker Finn Noergaard who was killed in one of the two attacks in Copenhagen, is brought out after the funeral service at Grundvigs Church, in Copenhagen, Tuesday Feb. 24, 2015. Finn Noergaard was attending a free speech event on Saturday Feb. 14 when he was shot outside the Teater Building 'Krudttonden' when he tried to stop the gunman. (AP Photo/Polfoto, Mogens Flindt)

The coffin of Danish filmmaker Finn Noergaard who was killed in one of the two attacks in Copenhagen, is brought out after the funeral service at Grundvigs Church, in Copenhagen, Tuesday Feb. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Polfoto, Mogens Flindt)

Dennis Meyhoff Brink thought he was going to die. On Feb. 14 he was attending a freedom-of-speech debate at a culture cafe in Copenhagen. The debate featured Francois Zimeray, the French ambassador to Denmark; Inna Shevchenko from the Ukrainian feminist group Femen; and Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist, who attracted attention in 2007, when he drew the Prophet Muhammad as a dog. After Zimeray had spoken to the crowd, a gunman attacked the cafe in an attempt to kill Vilks. Instead, he ended up killing Finn Nørgaard, a Danish film director. Brink, a professor at the University of Copenhagen who researches religious satire cartoons, is now worried for their future and afraid to participate in other freedom-of-speech events. But he is determined to eliminate that fear because he wants to live in a society where free debate thrives. Following are excerpts from an edited conversation with Brink.

When during the event did you notice something was wrong?

Not until I heard the shots. At first I thought it sounded a little like fireworks. It took us a few seconds to realize what was happening. Then everyone panicked and people rushed toward the doors.

I walked toward the nearest door — the door that led directly to where the shooter was, but I did not know that at the time. For some reason I couldn’t open the door. Maybe it was because I was shaking so much. I totally panicked, and there were people behind me who were very impatient and wanted to get out. I thought I could hear shots from the other side of the door, so I was afraid to open it. Instead I hid behind the mixing console. I felt like I couldn’t escape. I thought I would run straight into his arms no matter what door I used.

What were you thinking at the time?

A billion thoughts go through your mind. Most of them are about fleeing. The worst thing was that I couldn’t see how I could get out of there. I had heard someone yell something in a non-European language that sounded like Arabic. I thought about the Charlie Hebdo attack, and I was thinking, “In a minute he is going to come in here and shoot us.”

We were all defenseless. People were lying on the ground and were completely exposed.

Did you see police or security people?

I was looking toward the entrance door, hoping that it wouldn’t open because I thought an assassin would enter. Then the door opened, and I was in complete shock. A man with a gun entered. And for a split second I thought, “The next I will feel is bullets in my body.” But then it dawned on me that he was from the Danish Security and Intelligence Service because he was pointing the gun up so we could all see it. He was limping because he had been shot in the leg and was bleeding. He shouted something, and he ran out the back door, and then we heard some shots and shouts from there. I was just praying that he hadn’t been shot because he was on our side.

Everyone in the room was completely silent, almost as if they were dead. We were paralyzed. After maybe 10 minutes, I heard a lot of police sirens around the building. I thought, “Maybe we won’t die after all.”

After about 15 minutes, cops in uniforms entered the room. They said we should stay where we were because that was the safest place to be. They told us the whole area was cordoned off and there were police all over the neighborhood.

What consequences has the attack had for you?

The first days after the attack I was looking over my shoulder and feeling afraid all the time. I would scrutinize people and consider whether they could be a threat. Now that more time has passed, I’m starting to feel a little more like my old self. But I was supposed to participate in a debate about Charlie Hebdo that I canceled. I don’t dare participate. But I want to be able to participate in events like that again. I just think it’s best if one can unfold one’s life freely and without fear. I hope that’s how society will be. It’s a fight that we can’t ignore.

Why is it a fight that we can’t ignore?

Because I see what happened first of all as an attack on some people, but also as an attack on a certain way of life: Freedom of assembly, for example; meeting to debate freely without fearing for your life. I think that’s a way of life that is healthy and fruitful. I think satire cartoons are healthy for society. I think blasphemy is healthy and we have to distinguish between blasphemy and racism. Racism is morally reprehensible, but I don’t believe that it is racist to make satire over Muhammad, for example. In my eyes, Muhammad is an authority who even believes he has his authority directly from God. Authorities cannot be beyond criticism. If they are, it becomes unhealthy for society.

What consequences do you think the attack will have for religious satire?

There were already many who were afraid to practice religious satire, and now the fear has increased. Because a terrorist attack is not a theoretical possibility anymore. Now it is living reality. So I definitely think it will increase self-censorship. But if you look at how satire cartoonists responded to state censorship in Europe in the 1800s, they often found slightly different ways of saying things indirectly. I can also imagine that some people will see this as a chance for fame. If you draw Muhammad, you can be sure to get on the front page of all the newspapers.
But I mostly believe in the two other trends: many will not touch religious satire anymore because it’s too dangerous, and others will find new, creative ways to practice it.

What is the value of religious cartoons? What will we lose if many stop drawing them?

Religious cartoons pull authorities down to earth, down from their pedestal. Religion teaches us to look up to them, but satire teaches us to look down on them. Satire slams them to the ground and makes them more human and less divine. It depicts them as foolish, hot-tempered, hypocritical, hungry and horny, just like ordinary people. God is called “The Lord,” which means that we are minions who must obey, but satire refuses to obey. Satire is rebellious. I think that is actually healthy because it is releasing for people and creates a healthier relationship between people.

Can you give some examples of religious satire that works that way?

In the Age of Enlightenment, a strong anti-authoritarian religious satire arose. William Hogarth did a lot of satire in the mid 1700s that portrayed priests as fearmongers who tried to punish people with the idea of the devil. At that time, religious satire helped release people from the fear of the devil and the fear of going to hell because it portrayed the scary as ridiculous. When you can laugh about fear, it loses its power over you.

In the 1800s the cartoonist Honoré Daumier also had a showdown with the church, which he portrayed as the opposite of common sense, as reactionary and as a big moneymaker.

More contemporary examples are Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses,” which is a very fine literary work and a relevant religious satire. One of the best is Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” a very good and relevant film, which also caused a lot of uproar and debate when it came out. Lots of Christians were offended by it at the time. There were demonstrations on the streets in the U.S. and it was banned in Norway, so there were lots of protests then.

Lena Masri is a freelance journalist. She has previously worked for the national Danish daily Berlingske and the Danish radio station Radio24syv. You can follow her on Twitter at @masrilena Read more


NY photojournalist gets cameras back after arrest, but not press credentials

NPPA | The New York Times
Robert Stolarik’s cameras were confiscated when he was arrested on Aug. 4 while photographing police on a public street. He has them back now, but he still hasn’t received his press credentials. Stolarik met with NYPD’s Internal Affairs unit on Monday to discuss his complaint against the officers who beat and arrested him.

In an interview with the Times, NPPA lawyer Mickey Osterreicher says “the war on terrorism has somehow morphed into an assault on photography,” both by the press and the general public.

“Literally every day, someone is being arrested for doing nothing more than taking a photograph in a public place. It makes no sense to me. Photography is an expression of free speech,” Osterreicher says.

NYPD has issued guidelines telling officers not to interfere with the press, but Osterreicher said the problem persists.

I believe that the problem is it’s ingrained in the police culture. The idea of serve and protect has somehow changed, for some officers, to include protecting the public from being photographed.

Read more

Study: Happiest countries have press freedom

University of Missouri
Freedom of the press is a reliable indicator of a country’s happiness, journalism doctoral student Edson Tandoc Jr. concludes in a new study. Tandoc and Michigan State University’s Bruno Takahashi compared 2010 Gallup data on countries’ happiness levels with Freedom House’s press freedom index and countries’ environmental and developmental rankings.The University of Missouri reports:

Tandoc found that the more press freedom a country enjoyed, the higher the levels of life satisfaction, or happiness, of its citizens tended to be.

Wonderful news! But don’t we fall into the ol’ correlation-isn’t-causation problem here?

Tandoc also found that countries with higher levels of press freedom enjoyed better environmental quality and higher levels of human development, both of which also contribute to life satisfaction. He credits this to the watchdog function of the press, which helps expose corruption of all levels in a community.

I did a little on-the-fly peer review of my own, comparing this Huffington Post slideshow about countries that indexed well for happiness (based on that 2010 Gallup data) with international sales of “Call Me Maybe.”

In three of the happiest countries — Denmark, Finland and Panama — the song is still No. 1. In all the countries in the slideshow, “Call Me Maybe” is still on the charts. That said, it’s also No. 1 in Venezuela, Mexico and Italy, none of which Reporters Without Borders rates particularly high for press freedom. Read more


Romney boots reporters from Newseum event, media critics debate nature of irony

Politico | The Washington Post
Mitt Romney’s campaign kicked reporters out of an event at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum on Wednesday night. Huffington Post media reporter Michael Calderone’s tweet about the news stresses its irony: “a combination of circumstances or a result that is the opposite of what is or might be expected or considered appropriate [an irony that the firehouse burned].” (Webster’s New World, Fourth Edition, definition 3)

This led to a bit of a smackdown from Politico media reporter Dylan Byers, who while allowing that the “optics” of this action weren’t ideal, wrote that it represented the “status quo”:

In this case, the campaign was merely providing the guests with an opportunity to have an off-the-record conversation with the candidate. Reporters were allowed to cover the 30-minute speech, which was on the record, and then moved out of the room.

That would be definition 4a: “a cool, detached attitude of mind, characterized by recognition of the incongruities and complexities of experience.” Read more


Search engine results are protected by First Amendment, argues law professor | paidContent | All Things Digital
Newspapers make judgments about where to place stories. So do search engines, Eugene Volokh argues in a new paper commissioned by Google, and their editorial judgment should be considered protected speech. Search engines are “speakers,” Volokh writes:

The government may not tell the Huffington Post or the Drudge Report how to rank the news stories or opinion articles to which they link. Likewise, it may not do so for other speakers, such as search engines.

PaidContent’s Jeff John Roberts says this position means Google, which commissioned the report, could assert that squashing search results from competitors is protected speech:

In practice, this would mean Google has the right to punt sites like Yelp, which has complained that Google is a monopolist, to the search equivalent of Siberia if it decided that was best for users (Yelp now comes up second in a search for “restaurant review”).

Read more

On World Press Freedom Day, Equatorial Guinea lives up to its low ranking

Committee to Protect Journalists
The government of Equatorial Guinea responded to its distinction as the fifth most-censored country in the world by holding a news conference at which President Teodoro Obiang declared, “There are really no restrictions on any activity of the press, provided they are legal.” That message must not have made it to the head of the state-owned broadcaster, who on the same day “barred Samuel Obiang Mbana, an independent journalist … from participating in a televised debate to which he had been invited two days earlier to speak on how press freedom could transform the country.” Mbana tells CPJ’s Peter Nkanga, “I was told I am problematic, that I might say something the station is censored not to say, and which the government doesn’t want aired.” || Related: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton honors journalists on World Press Freedom Day (U.S. Department of State) Read more


Should journalists show support for Trayvon Martin, ask for Scott Walker’s recall?

Two separate incidents involving journalists who work for Gannett and ESPN have renewed attention to the issue of how journalists should exercise their right to free speech.

Earlier this week, editors and publishers at several Gannett papers said that its journalists had violated the company’s values by signing petitions calling for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recall. ESPN, meanwhile, dropped its ban on staff posting photos of themselves wearing hoodies to show solidarity with Trayvon Martin.

These news organizations’ decisions raise interesting questions: Which of these types of speech should journalists feel free to exercise? And should journalists who are covering these stories limit their speech more than those who aren’t?

We asked our Twitter followers about this (take our poll here), and hosted a related live chat with Reuters’ Jack Shafer. During the chat, we discussed both situations and responded to feedback and questions from chat participants.

You can replay the chat here …

<a href=”” mce_href=”” >What types of free speech should journalists be free to exercise?</a> Read more


College adviser wins job back, but there’s no newspaper to advise

First Amendment Center | Student Press Law Center
Gerian Steven Moore has won his job back at Chicago State University after a judge ruled that he had been fired because Tempo, the student newspaper that he advised, had published stories critical of the university. Trouble is, Tempo stopped publishing in April 2009, and the judge decided not to force the school to reinstate it. The judge ruled that student interest in the paper probably waned after it ceased publication and  editor George Providence II left the school, following multiple clashes with the administration over press freedom. “A win for the university’s students … would include a free and independent campus newspaper,” writes the First Amendment Center’s Douglas E. Lee. The school has to bring Moore back as executive director for communications or offer him a similar job, according to the Student Press Law Center. || Related: Student adviser fired from ECU appeals termination on First Amendment grounds (Poynter) Read more


Aggressive local blogger served with cease-and-desist letter

New Times Broward-Palm Beach
Local blogger/rabble-rouser Chaz Stevens “is a hard puppy to love.” The line at the top of his blog says “professional ball busting,” and he’s not opposed to referring to public officials with profane nicknames or sending the city of Lauderdale Lakes public records requests like this:

Do you folks have one of those Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville margarita makers over in Finance? If that is the case, can you kindly ask that they don’t start whipping up some strawberry frothy delights until after, say 3pm? … Kindly have someone put down the Ronrico, step away from the blender (carefully avoiding stepping on a pop top), and get me my data.

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Aided by Silicon Valley, U.S. government ferrets out journalists’ confidential sources

The New York Times | Scripting News
Two Times stories over the weekend focused on threats to journalists’ ability to keep their sources confidential. One of those threats is familiar to journalists: the government. The other is relatively new: Silicon Valley. Both hinge on reporters’ increasing reliance on electronic, third-party means of communication.

First, the Times’ Adam Liptak describes how the U.S. government is increasingly using technological means to ferret out leakers. He writes about the government’s case against former CIA agent John C. Kiriakou, who is accused of leaking classified information to journalists about a captured Al Qaeda operative:

The criminal complaint in the case says it is based largely on “e-mails recovered from search warrants served on two e-mail accounts associated with Kiriakou.” …

“The Kiriakou complaint is astonishing,” said [Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood], “because you see the government delving into the innards of the news production process.”

Only one of the journalists involved in the Kiriakou case has been publicly identified: Scott Shane of The Times. A spokeswoman for The Times has said that neither the paper nor Mr. Shane had been contacted by investigators or had provided any information to them. The digital trail, it seems, was enough.

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