Saturday, February 04, 2006

Was the press right to republish those cartoons?

Is it really brave deliberately to cause offence? Most of the UK press seem to agree with my view (or perhaps I agree with theirs?) that it isn’t. I got mildly lambasting by some simple souls after posting my opinion, perhaps in an offensively deliberately oblique way, on a comment over at Harry’s Place yesterday.

The Daily Mail says in its comment column today that: “freedom of speech also involves responsibilities … a key obligation of free speech is that you don't gratuitously insult those with whom you disagree.” and the Guardian’s leader writer declares that it “believes uncompromisingly in freedom of expression, but not in any duty to gratuitously offend”

The Indy’s leader is mostly only available if you pay* but it makes a similar point which you can read for free: “But while we defend Jyllands-Posten's right to publish, we also question its editorial judgement. …. There is no merit in causing gratuitous offence, as these cartoons undoubtedly do.”

Yesterday the Telegraph leader said: “The Daily Telegraph has chosen not to publish the cartoons. We prefer not to cause gratuitous offence to some of our readers, a policy we also apply, for example, to pictures of graphic nudity or violence”.

The Times leader today ruminates, inter alia, about another angle which I hadn’t considered: “the much misunderstood role of the free press. It is telling that the reaction of protesters and politicians alike in much of the Islamic world has been to hold governments responsible for editorial decisions taken in media outlets. The assumption seems to be that the idea of a free press is an elegant sham, that democracies, just like dictatorships, involve controlled news, so nothing sees the black of print without an element of official sanction. It is an outlook that, if it cannot be changed, will, unfortunately, result in yet more conflict.”


*With the Independent's print version today you also get a teach-yourself-Spanish CD which might make a handy bird scarer for your precious crops. You’ll have to buy the IoS if you want the book to go with it.

4 Comments:

At 22:34, Blogger Scribbles said...

I'm wondering if the British Press's decision not to print has less to do with being unwilling to offend, and more to do with being unwilling to face death threats over some crap cartoons? If so, I couldn't blame them.

 
At 12:09, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Thanks for the comment scribbles.

Whatever their motives I think the decision was correct. The original publisher's motives seem a long way from pure but at least more defendable than those who republished them. The latter seemed to be primarily seeking sensation or circulation rather than seriously trying to defend the freedom of the press....

 
At 17:03, Blogger The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

I'm not so sure: The key here is the word "gratuitous". One or two of these cartoons were offensive, not more. Few were clever. None were gratuitous. They served a purpose other than purely to be offensive.

JP published following a two week long debate where a number of stories emerged, telling of self-censorship for fear of violent reprisals by fundamentalist Muslims.

Given that JP was undoubtedly right to publish (a decision vindicated by the bomb threats it subsequently received), I think that there is a worthwhile point to be made across the "West" that we all believe in the Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech in general.

We cannot afford to have valid debate closed down by the threat of violence, no matter how much it may be couched in the terms of religious sensitivity.

This is most particularly true if the debate in question concerns the unwarranted use of violence by religion fundamentalists....

PG

 
At 16:08, Blogger Hughes Views said...

I still think that it isn't a good idea to throw petrol onto a smouldering fire (even if the fire should not have been lit in the first place). I think the Times made a good point about some people not being fortunate enough to know what a free press really is and therefore being easy to convince that these (not very funny) cartoons somehow represent the official western line on Islam.

Alan Coren wrote quite a good lightweight piece about cartoons (of which subject he knows a lot)in the Times on Wednesday

 

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