Press caught in middle of conflict

As we prepare to celebrate the United Nation's World Press Freedom Day this Sunday, U.S. journalists and reporters from many nations are still braving death threats from Islamic terrorists across the globe.

Tragically, many journalists and photographers have already been killed by these fanatics who suddenly emerged in the 21st century as if in a time capsule from medieval times.

One of the worst attacks occurred on the morning of this January 7 in Paris when two brothers belonging to al-Qaida's branch in Yemen stormed their way into the offices of France's satirical weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.

Armed with AK-47 assault rifles, those terrorists killed 11 people and injured 11 others inside the building. After the terrorists left the weekly's offices, they added to death count by killing a French National Police Officer who had just arrived at the scene. Several related attacks killed another five people in the nearby region of ile-de-France, bringing the murder toll to 16.

What did the Charlie Hebdo staff members and the other journalists do to deserve such grisly deaths? They drew satirical sketches of the Prophet Muhammad, which is perfectly legal in France and most other European democracies where freedom of expression is an enshrined right.

France, upholding its honor with typical gallic elan, responded swiftly to the attacks, rounding up known and suspected terrorists in Paris and throughout the country.

On January 11, some two million people, including more than 40 world leaders, gathered in Paris for a rally of national and global unity. Sadly, President Barack Obama was not among them.

However, American journalism itself has hardly been a pillar of courage in standing up to Islamic extremism. Only a handful of newspapers have reprinted the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Scandinavian newspapers, with a fraction of the U.S. dailies' circulation, have reprinted dozens of those cartoons.

This coming Sunday is a perfect time for American newspapers and television networks to show solidarity with their martyred colleagues by displaying one or more of the cartoons criticizing the Prophet Mohammed that prompted such violent reprisals.

It would be wonderful, indeed, if most of the 1,400 American daily newspapers and the 1,700-plus TV stations displayed at least one of the offending cartoons that led to the deaths of their heroic colleagues abroad.

Leading American organizations of journalists also should also make major statements that show unbridled support for World Press Freedom Day.

Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Columbia University School of Journalism could sponsor a daylong event in the ballroom of the National Press Club in Washington sometime this summer to honor this most basic freedom.

As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently declared: "Only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate and criticize policies and actions can good governance exist."

He's right. It's time for American newspapers and TV stations to show their mettle by running one of the many cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad _ not to insult Muslims, but merely to show the world that freedom of the press remains sacrosanct in the United States. 

Whitt Flora is an independent journalist. He formerly covered the White House for The Columbus Dispatch and was Chief Congressional Correspondent for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine.

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