Five years after the staff of Charlie Hebdo gave up on the idea of submitting an app to Apple due to its notoriously restrictive approval process for political and controversial content, the French satirical magazine now has one live in the App Store, as well at Google Play.

What a difference a bunch of dead cartoonists makes.

Last week, Apple approved a “Je Suis Charlie” geo-tracking app for people who want to show their support for free expression in the wake of the massacre at the publication’s office in Paris.

“Contrary to what you thought would happen if Charlie Hebdo was to submit its app, it did get approved,” a spokesperson from Le Monde, the French daily newspaper which built the app, said.

Groupe Le Monde, which owns Le Monde, is one of several media outlets in France to offer material support to Charlie Hebdo following the January 7 terrorist attack, which left 10 staff members dead. Along with with the daily newspaper Libération, Radio France and France Televisions, Groupe Le Monde volunteered staff and equipment to ensure Charlie Hebdo’s continued publication.

As part of that support, Le Monde’s mobile team began building the Charlie Hebdo app the day after the massacre. They wanted to have the app available for download on Friday, the day the first post-shooting issue of Charlie Hebdo hit the newsstands, the spokesperson told ReadWrite. Now, anyone unable to find a print copy of Charlie Hebdo’s 7  million-issue run (up from its standard 60,000) can download the app in both the Apple App Store and Google Play.

The Charlie Hebdo app is free to download, but you have to make a $2.99 in-app purchase in order to access the latest issue, or shell out $89.99 for a year’s subscription. The latest issue is available in English and Spanish as well as French. But Anglophones and Hispanophones take note: future issues will be only appear in French.

According to Le Monde’s spokesperson, time limitations proved the greatest obstacle in getting the Charlie Hebdo app on the market. “We needed to build the app, to translate all the content to Spanish and in English, and hurry a way to display the translations,” he told ReadWrite. “Second, we needed to get the proper documents from Charlie’s survivors to open the official accounts, and as you can guess they were mourning their loss, working on the survivor’s issue, dealing with the press.”

Despite Charlie Hebdo’s caustic content, receiving Apple’s approval for the app was not a problem. “Apple and Google both have been very kind and helpful and of course they never asked to limit the content in any way,” the spokesperson told ReadWrite.

Even the cover of Charlie Hebdo’s latest edition, which depicts the prophet Muhammad holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign while shedding a tear, appears in the App Store. Depicting Muhammad’s image—something that Charlie Hebdo does regularly—is considered heretical to some Muslims.

The necessity of making an in-app purchase to access Charlie Hebdo’s content may provide Apple with enough comfortable distance to approve the free app. Regardless, it’s a dramatic change for Apple, which rejected comparatively tame American political cartoonist Mark Fiore’s animation app in 2009. According to Apple’s rejection letter at the time, Fiore’s offending images included cartoons that criticized torture and White House party crashers. It wasn’t until 2010, when Fiore won the Pulitzer Prize, that Apple relented.

An onslaught of customer complaints following Fiore’s rejection also led to changes in Apple’s rules, which now allow apps that feature ridicule of public figures and the like. Apple’s difficult relationship with satire remained an issue, however. In 2013, the App Store rejected the iOS game Sweat Shop, which dealt with the conditions in Third World factories.

Whether the Charlie Hebdo app is an aberration greenlighted in the aftermath of a horrifying tragedy, or this marks a real change to Apple’s App Store and iTunes restrictions, remains to be seen. 

Lead image courtesy Valentina Calà

helen popkin

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