12 people are dead in a terrorist attack against French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, raising questions about freedom of speech and how much is too much? Oxford Dictionaries defines freedom of speech as, “the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint” (Oxford Dictionaries Online 2015). Charlie Hebdo is known to be very controversial, often depicting government officials and even holy figures in what some would call a demeaning light.
Editor in Chief of the Western Gazette, Iain Boekhoff says people like the idea of free speech, until they are met with opposing opinions. “People believe in free speech in the abstract. What it really comes down to is that when there’s something that really effects them, whether it is a personal experience or their personal beliefs and they’re offended then they find that it is not okay to say that” says Boekhoff.
Boekhoff believes that it is not okay to pick and choose what is acceptable to be published based on personal opinions and tastes. If you are offended by something, he says, “If they [journalists] cross the line, then we should recognize that and we should have arguments as to why they crossed the line. We should keep going back to those arguments and strengthening those arguments, so that we, as a society can continue to have an open debate.” He adds, “free speech is critical to a democratic and free society.”
The Western Gazette was under it’s fair share of fire in 2014 with their satirical article titled ‘So you want to date a teaching assistant?” The article along with other works was reviewed under the Gazette’s Advisory Board and by the law firm McKenzie-Lake Lawyers. It was concluded that the article was written in poor taste, however, it was not found to be discriminatory or in any way illegal.
Boekhoff issued a formal apology.
Looking back on the controversy Boekhoff says, “I would probably do it differently. Obviously I’ve learned a lot since then, we’ve all learned a lot since then. Even more so because we are a student newspaper, you know, we are learning how to write.”
He adds that he wishes there could have been more of a debate between readers and the Gazette. He wanted to hear exactly why people were upset and be able to have a discussion about it.