Accused of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ Censorship, AP Removes ‘Piss Christ’ Image

Andres Serrano's Piss Christ before it was removed from the AP website.

In the wake of the terrorist attack that killed 12 at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, much of the mainstream media has self-censored cartoons from the publication. The AP was accused of hypocrisy for opting not to distribute the magazine’s politically and racially charged cartoons while continuing to sell an image of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, which shocked the world in 1989 by showing a crucifix submerged in a container of the artist’s urine. In response, the AP quickly removed the Serrano photograph from its website.

“It’s been our policy for years that we refrain from moving deliberately provocative images,” AP spokesperson Erin Madigan, insisted to Politco in response to the criticism about its decision not to share the irreverent cartoons. “It is fair to say we have revised and reviewed our policies since 1989,” when the Piss Christ photo was first published.


Serrano’s image (among “The Most Controversial Depictions of Jesus in Art“) recently returned to the spotlight as demonstrators protested its inclusion in an exhibition at the Fesch Museum in Ajaccio, Corsica.

The AP is hardly the only major news outlet to opt against publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons: the New York Daily News pixelated the magazine’s cover, as did the Telegraph, which later removed the controversial image entirely.

At CNN, a staff memo from senior editorial director Richard Griffiths encouraged writers to “verbally describe the cartoons in detail,” rather than reproduce the artwork, citing the importance of balancing “the tension between free expression and respect for religion.”

Response to the decision not to show the cartoons has been highly critical, with Gawker characterizing the AP’s actions as “a cowardly and unfortunate capitulation to the men who killed 12 people today in an apparent effort to quell speech.”

While these publications have taken a conservative tack, many, especially artists, are standing in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, causing some to believe that the killing of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists will make art stronger.

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