Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoons ignite debate over role of media

A day after Quebec's French-language dailies decided to jointly publish a satirical cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, debate continues to swirl over how the media should respond.

Montreal Gazette runs image of Prophet after newspaper initially decided against it

Quebec French-language newspapers decided to run a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. (CBC)

A day after Quebec's French-language dailies decided to jointly publish a satirical cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, debate continues to swirl over how the media should respond to Wednesday's attack on the Paris weekly which left 12 people dead.

On Thursday, 11 French-language newspapers, including La Presse, Le Devoir and Le Journal de Montréal, published the cartoon – which originally ran in Charlie Hebdo in Feb. 2006 – alongside a joint statement explaining that they wanted to honour the victims of the Paris shootings and show their support for the “fundamental principle of freedom of expression.”

The Montreal Gazette initially decided not to run the cartoon as part of that joint initiative, with the newspaper's editor-in-chief Lucinda Chodan telling CBC that her parent company, Postmedia, has a long-standing policy against publishing depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

On Friday, however, the cartoon appeared in the print edition of the newspaper. It shows the half-hidden, grimacing face of the Prophet Muhammad, saying, "It's tough to be loved by idiots." 

The image ran alongside a wire story about Charlie Hebdo.

Chodan did not return CBC's requests for comment about the decision on Friday, and there was no printed explanation accompanying the image.

Broader philosophical issue at play, Coyne says

The National Post, based in Toronto, decided to run several Charlie Hebdo cartoons featuring the Prophet. 

Andrew Coynea political columnist and editor at the newspaper, told CBC's The Current it was important to publish them to help explain why the satirical Paris newspaper was targeted. 

An update from reporter Melissa Chemam on the hostage crisis in Paris. Plus, in the aftermath of Wednesday's attack, journalists are divided on whether re-publishing Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in solidarity is essential or offensive. 21:41

"The story here is that this magazine was slaughtered for publishing cartoons that some people found objectionable," Coyne said.

"It's a little precious to write about that and then not actually show people what the fuss is about."

There's a broader philosophical issue at play, Coyne added.

"We live in secular society," he said.

"We cannot and should not allow the religious convictions of any group, no matter how deeply felt, to dictate what we can and cannot write and what we can or cannot do."

Canada a multicultural society, CBC's Studer says

CBC decided not to publish cartoons from Charlie Hebdo that feature the Prophet Muhammad. 

David Studer, director of Journalistic Standards and Practices at CBC News, told The Current he doesn't believe showing the cartoons is necessary "to understand that any drawing is out of bounds for Muslims."

"I think this is a tolerant, multicultural society in Canada," Studer said.  

"I think to print these things in effect let these guys with the guns push a wedge in between the broader society and the peaceful, productive Islamic people who live in this country."

CBC's French service, Radio-Canada, took a different approach and chose to run the cartoon on TV and its website. 

Michel Cormier, Radio-Canada's executive director of news and current affairs, said it helped give the story context.