The cartoons of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, victim of an attack on Wednesday in which 12 people died, made the headlines several times. In November 2011, the paper was targeted with petrol bombers after it published cartoons representing the Muslim prophet Mohammed. “Cartoons have a place in the press,” explains Andre Linard, Secretary General of the Press Ethics Committee. “They must also respect basic press ethics rules, even if they have their own characteristics.” The French-speaking press in Belgium refers to an ethical code of conduct which was updated in December 2013. It is structured around fundamental principles such as verifying news before publishing, producing information faithfully and respecting the rights of persons.
Cartoons are a special type of reporting, but those basic principles still apply. “They are a distinctive means of expression. They can mock an event or a person, but must not deceive the reader,” explains Andre Linard. “A cartoon can take an item and focus on it, but not change its nature. However, setting clear limits is difficult. Each case is different when it comes to evaluating the relevance of a cartoon.” This is why cartoonists have more leeway to better express their creativity.
He gives the example of a cartoon which on its own might be deemed offensive but whose message could be contained and qualified by an accompanying article.