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Public editor: Why The Globe didn’t publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons

Brian Gable’s take on the Paris massacre.

Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

There is a debate going on about whether newspapers should have published some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed.

On Thursday, contributor Timothy Garton Ash says European media should publish: "I would suggest that the publication or broadcast over this week should include not only a few of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons relating to Mohammed, but also one or two devoted to other subjects, so everyone can see that this was a satirical magazine, offensive to many different kinds of people. That's what satire does."

A number of French-language newspapers in Canada did so Thursday. Many English papers, including The Globe and Mail, did not. The CBC also did not and it appears the same is true for many other English-language broadcasters.

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David Walmsley, The Globe and Mail's editor-in-chief, explained the decision not to include the cartoons: "One doesn't need to show a cartoon to show the story. The story is the killings, not any cartoon. As our editorial said, we support the right to publish material that provokes. Throughout the media landscape across the world, there is a wide range of material that is published. Charlie Hebdo has its voice, for example. The Globe and Mail has its. We hadn't published the cartoons before the slaughter and our editorial position remains the same today."

From the readers' point of view, I think there are a few considerations. One is that any story about killings must keep the focus on the victims. In this case, the Globe stories did focus on the journalists, the police and the other victims.

Readers also need to understand the motivation of the killers so that we can understand society. Columnist Doug Saunders did a good job of that in his piece in The Globe.

So, do the readers need to see actual cartoons or do they need a description? One problem is that we don't know if it was one particular cartoon or several that was the focus of the killers' anger. If that comes to light, perhaps The Globe should review its decision.

In my view, an article The Globe published online on what Charlie Hebdo is and why it was a target explains the background well, and if the article and accompanying examples of cartoons that do not include the Prophet Mohammed were printed in the newspaper, they would have helped readers better understand the nature of the satirical magazine.

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