Editors Rusbridger and Rajan defend decision not to publish Charlie Hebdo Muhammad front page

Historian and Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash has called on publications to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo by republishing its front covers next week.

Speaking at a solidarity event organised by The Guardian last night he asked whether there will be more “self censorship” in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

He said: “If that’s the case then the assassins will have won.”

“There should be a European campaign of solidarity. Every major newspaper, broadcaster and platform should republish a selection of the title covers from Charlie Hebdo and carefully explain why we are doing this.

“We wouldn’t usually do it, but we are doing it to show that violence and intimidation does not pay. The assassin’s veto does not prevail.

“Without that solidarity the assassin’s veto will have won and fear will have won.”

So far The Times is the only UK publication to publish one of the Charlie Hebdo images which it is believed may have provoked Tuesday’s attack:  a front page cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad which prompted the magazine to be firebombed in 2011.

The 2011 edition of Charlie Hebdo was "guest edited" by Muhammad and pictured him on the front page saying: "100 lashes if you don't die laughing". It appeared as part of a montage of images on page four of yesterday's Times.

Last night on Question Time, host David Dimbleby revealed to his panel that it is against BBC editorial guidelines to “represent” the Prophet Muhammad.

After Labour MP and shadow health minister Liz Kendall spoke on the programme of why a free press should be able to “criticise” and “satirise” religion, the host said: “I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I didn’t read this out from BBC editorial guidelines, you ought to know in the light of what you said.

“Political, religious and topical sensitivities. It says: ‘Due care and consideration must be made regarding the use of religious symbols in images which may cause offence.’

“And it goes on: ‘The Prophet Muhammad must not be represented in any shape or form.’”

Talkshow host Julia Hartley-Brewer responded on the programme: “I think that’s absolutely outrageous.”

Also on the BBC yesterday, Independent editor Amol Rajan told Radio 4’s Today programme why he chose not to republish the Charlie Hebdo Prophet Muhammad front page: “You know, you don’t like the idea of self-censorship, you don’t like the idea that you grant a victory to these religious fanatics by not publishing something that instinctively you would like to.

“But the fact is as an editor you have got to balance principle with pragmatism and I felt yesterday [Wednesday] evening a few different, conflicting principles.

“I felt a duty to readers, I felt a duty to the dead, I felt a duty to journalism, and I also felt a duty to my staff.

“And I think it would have been too much of a risk to unilaterally decide in Britain to be the only newspaper that went ahead and published.”

Journalist Nick Cohen, also speaking at last night’s Guardian event, said he had been told by the BBC and Channel 4 that they would not publish a cartoon depiction of Muhammad because they are concerned for the safety of correspondents in Pakistan.

He said: “If you are frightened at least have the guts to say that. The most effective form of censorship is the one that nobody admits exists.”

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger told last night’s meeting: “There was a Twitter frenzy of trying to persuade people to print more and more offensive material.

"We did print about four or five images of Charlie Hebdo…

“There are some very offensive ones that The Guardian would never in the normal run of events publish.  

“We completely defend Charlie Hebdo's ethos and vales and the right to offend in the way that they did. It felt to me there was tokenism in demanding that The Guardian should change.

"The thing that is important is that we don’t change as a result. If they want us to change, and become more inflammatory and contribute to a hardening of attitudes in society one of the things The Guardian can do is not change.”

Guardian Media Group last night announced it was donating £100,000 to help keep Charlie Hebdo in business.

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