In the wake of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine, numerous conservative press critics are condemning the "cowardice" of media outlets that are censoring the Charlie Hebdo's controversial Islam-ridiculing cartoons. These critics are giving journalists far too little credit for courage: they routinely face mortal danger all over the world, yet continue to report on far-flung places where their comrades have only recently fallen. Pursuing the story even in the face of violence is a core journalistic value.
But while it's clearly not cowardice that's triggering the censorship, neither is it principled reluctance to offend religious groups, as the news outlets themselves typically claim. There are in fact many examples of newsworthy images offensive to religions other than Islam that have been given wide, generally uncensored coverage in the media, from the famous artworks "Piss Christ" and "The Holy Virgin Mary" made of elephant dung, to this New York Daily News photo of a Charlie Hebdo cartoon, which includes a carefully censored caricature of a Muslim, and a completely uncensored anti-Semitic caricature of a Jew.
Rather, journalists selectively resist or appease threats of violence the same way academics do: based on political sympathy. No Western journalist (or academic) would ever dream of kowtowing to threats of violence from right-wing terrorists, but threats from more politically sympatico sources--say, Hamas or the Obama White House--receive considerably more cooperation. And while Al Qaeda-trained French Islamist terrorists may not exactly be in perfect political harmony with most Western journalists, Muslims in general--even radical ones--are definitely considered part of the broad coalition of "the left", and their sometimes-overly-rambunctious-when-aroused sensibilities are therefore more often accommodated, to avoid accusations of "Islamophobia".