Sunday, February 05, 2006

NZ Herald - Why we did not run those cartoons

The following is an editorial from the New Zealand herald on why they
didnt post the cartoons
.


Newspapers in Europe and elsewhere have quickly made common cause with the Danish paper that printed cartoons depicting the prophet of Islam and brought the wrath of Arab states upon the head of Denmark. The country has been the target of street demonstrations, flag burnings, death threats and a consumer boycott of Danish goods in several Gulf states. Denmark's Prime Minister has expressed alarm, and the editor of the offending newspaper has said he would not have published the material "had we known it would lead to boycotts and Danish lives being endangered".

The editor perhaps ought to regret his decision to publish but not for the reasons given. To withhold material for fear of retaliation is truly to surrender the freedom of the press. A better reason for the editor's regret would be that, too late, he has realised the gratuitous offence his newspaper has given. Even that reason would be too much for some of the editors who have rushed to reprint the cartoons in a cause that one of them has called "the right to blasphemy".

When any right is invoked, it can be hard to keep your head. As soon as an issue is framed as a test of press freedom, the temptation is to publish for no better reason than to assert that freedom. And in some circumstances, where the threat is real, that might be reason enough to publish. But in this country, and most others where newspapers have strutted a hairy chest on this issue, Muslims are a small minority of the population and we are free to offend their religious sensitivities if we want to.

The only question to consider is, why would we want to? Humour is one good reason, and it can be the hardest subject to treat responsibly. Humour, especially when it carries a social comment, will often poke fun at things some people hold dear. But there have always been boundaries of taste that publications in a free country can largely set for themselves. Cartoons that set out to give offence for no redeeming purpose leave a nasty taste in the mouths of most people, and media with mass circulation publications generally avoid them.

Cartoons that simply make fun of a minority's racial characteristics or sexual orientation are likely to fall foul of the law these days. Should religion have the same protection? Some Western countries have had this debate recently, and defenders of free speech have rightly made a distinction between religion and race or sexuality. Religion is not an innate characteristic like the others. Religion is a commitment of choice. It is also an assertion of beliefs, attitudes and rules of conduct that other people must be free to question, criticise and lampoon if they wish.

The cartoon in the Danish case could have been quite justifiable in the context of a debate. To publish them simply to illustrate the debate about their publication is an option open only to those who believed their original publication blameless. We do not. We ask the question, would we insult Christians simply to prove that we have a right to do so?

Islam and Christianity are similar monotheistic religions, but there is one big difference. Christianity is based on belief in a God who took human form in Jesus Christ. Islam's human vehicle, the prophet Muhammad, is not part of its deity. Islam never depicts its God in human form, nor its prophet. To enter a mosque is to be struck by the utter absence of any image of a human figure, which Islam treats as idolatry. This might not be widely known in the West, but news media should be getting better acquainted with Middle Eastern values.

There is plenty in Islam to question, criticise, satirise and cartoon, as there is in any religion, without giving offence for its own sake. No question of press freedom arises here. When events call for critical or humorous comment on any religion, we reserve our right to publish it.

3 Comments:

Anonymous watcher in oz said...

I noticed that the Fiji Post published an article which included the cartoons. Rather a stupid thing to do because obviously the reaction to them is so strong in other parts of the world. Freedom of the press is something but really there was no need to republish the pics. Comment certainly bit not use the pics as there is a respected Muslim community in Fiji. It's bad manners and rude to vilify someone else's religion.

7:29 am  
Blogger George said...

I didnt realise they published the cartoons. I dont read the daily post but havent heard anything about it from other media sources.

If they did it was a pretty stupid move on Daily Posts part. Besides the political fallout as its a majority owned government paper their will be economic fallout as their is a significant muslim population in Fiji

8:24 am  
Blogger George said...

Just watched on TV about daily post publishing the articles.

Prime minister said it was irresponsible to publish the cartoons as it doesnt serve any purpose in Fiji. In which I agree with.

I think the Daily Post editor is seeking attention, before this job he was the Police media spokesman.

Best case scenairo is for gang to ingnore it and government to get rid of the editor. Editor wants a fight


Fiji the way the world should be

9:15 pm  

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