Is This the Price We Pay for an Open Media?
News reports this week of American officials being killed, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, center around a new film that apparently depicts the prophet Muhammad in an unflattering light. According to press reports, the film “Mohammed, Prophet of the Muslims” is intended to talk about Islam while satirizing the religion’s founder. Other protests spread across the Middle East in response to the movie, portions of which are now finding their way onto YouTube.
It reminds me of the Dutch newspaper in 2005, which wanted to contribute to the debate about the portrayal of Islam and self-censorship in the media by publishing a series of satirical cartoons about Mohammed. Response to the publication of those cartoons sparked worldwide protests, with more than 100 people being killed. And more recently, Florida minister Terry Jones and his burning of a copy of the Koran sparked deadly attacks against American troops in Afghanistan in 2010.
What in the world are people thinking?
Yes, free speech (which we enjoy here in the U.S. and is a core foundational principle of our country) allows us the right to say what we wish and provides for a healthy and open discourse. Yet with that right comes enormous responsibility… and 21st century media has only made that more important. Literally ANYTHING that is said, printed, or produced can be available worldwide instantaneously. What you tweet for your buddies can be seen by literally ANYONE with access to a computer and the internet. Gone are the days when just a few big media companies had the ability to spread a message across every country in the world. You can do it with just a Twitter or YouTube account… and it can literally spread like wildfire in mere seconds.
I’m not advocating for censorship, or the clamping down of the right to share our thoughts and ideas to anyone who wishes to hear them. I believe strongly in the forging of ideas through the heat of debate and the free-flow of intelligent conversation. But we live in a time when the power of media has perhaps overwhelmed our ability to think responsibly about its use. Innocent Americans died this week because a filmmaker threw caution to the wind, ignoring past history about a most sensitive topic to millions of people around the world.
Is this the price we must pay for the open media we enjoy today? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below…