January 23, 2015
The safety and importance of free expression has a complicated history, and in a media landscape that has intensely evolved in the last decade, its future looks even more confusing. Looking back on other historical events, the attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is not unprecedented. History is littered with endless examples of violence against writers and journalists. The Iranian Ayatollah threatened the author Salman Rushdie’s life, Senator Joe McCarthy blacklisted un-American citizens in the 1950s, and Martin Luther was excommunicated for publishing his 95 Theses. And while typically such continued displays of hostility from so many groups would indicate a clear flaw in the system of published word, they all in fact exemplify the continued ubiquity and desperate necessity of writers and publishers. Newspapers, at their heart, are forums for the promulgation of information and the articulation of opinion regardless of political or ideological leaning. They are bastions for the fleeting pursuit of the truth.
Even so, the job of writers and publishers has clearly changed a lot in the last five hundred years. More than ever, written word can reach audiences of increasingly diverse position and this poses a new set of challenges. Publishers are continually prompted to ask themselves how they can present information and opinion without offending or losing parts of their audience. The delicate equilibrium of censorship and tolerance wavers frequently, and newspapers are eternally trapped between the two. The Spectator is not spared from this balancing act either.
Whether or not the past editorial decisions of Charlie Hebdo were profound, shallow or offensive is yet to be decided, and probably never will be. But in light of this violence, all newspapers should reevaluate how they make their own editorial decisions – their commitment to unsavory truths and their strength in the face of opposition. With a new semester upon us, The Spectator is recommitting itself to finding its balance with every article and every issue. We promise that every word published will be considerate and compassionate, but always faithful to the entirety of the story. We promise that whether flattering or disappointing we will report the events and actions at Hamilton College, safeguarding our independence and integrity.
The steadfast history of journalists overcoming their challengers indicates that the fight is not yet over –and it should not be. From international newspapers to college weeklies, journalists should bravely dive into the vanguard of information sharing every time they write. We should be the front line of interrogating and critiquing different sources of power because without independent journalism every community loses their access to valuable information that affect their lives. And above all, journalists should do this without fear of retribution, not only because censorship is wrong, but because it also has no history of ever extinguishing the truth.