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Panpa Bulletin : February 2006
Publication of a series of car- toons has caused attacks on Danish embassies, the resignation of a Lebanese Govern- ment Minister, a Senate resolu- tion in Pakistan, calls for bans on New Zealand's sheep trade, the arrests of two editors in Jordan, the dismissal of one in France and the withdrawal of the publishers' licence in Malaysia/ Once the fu- rore erupted no other business -- and newspapers are generally run as money making businesses - would take an action which ran these kinds of risks. There in lies the publishers' dilemma. If to publish means to perish -- when is the action not worth the fallout?. The majority of the editors of the major newspa- pers in Australia and New Zealand opted not to publish Their cau- tion -- a mainly pragmatic and "re- spectful" approach, also adopted by editors in the UK because of concern about the fragility of the relationship between non-Mus- lims and Muslims -- has re-ignited the debate about press freedom and when newspapers impose "'self-censorship." In New Zealand, of the major publications, only Wellington's Dominion Post and The Press at Christchurch (both Fairfax titles) printed some of the cartoons, giving rise to fears that the coun- try's exports might suffer. New Zealand's trade with Iran alone is worth more than $100 million. The Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst, who is chairman of the New Zealand Media Freedom committee, insists he did not set out deliberately to antagonise the Islamic communities in New Zea- land. It was an issue of solidarity and support for press freedom. He had considered issues such as the potential for consumer boycotts in Islamic markets against NZ ex- ports, or even violent reactions against New Zealanders or their businesses overseas. The cartoons have also been reproduced in the Fiji Daily Post however this has drawn the ire of Parliament. "This issue should not be treated lightly and has now reached intolerable levels," General Secretary of the National Federation Party (Fiji), Pramod Rae said. In Australia, it was Brisbane's Courier-Mail that broke away from the generally- held view of the region's senior editors that the Danish cartoons are too offensive to print, with publication leading to "nasty con- sequences." The Courier-Mail ran just one of the 12 original Jyllands-Posten car- toons. It showed bombers queu- ing to get into heaven, with the Prophet Mohammed standing on a cloud telling them to stop com- ing because heaven had run out of virgins. The cartoon was used on Page 17 of a Saturday issue, along- side a report on the riots that the cartoons have sparked. The frank- ness of editors in explaining why they chose not to run the Danish cartoons is producing record re- sponse levels from readers. Some of the readers express- ing concern about press freedom issues have pointed out that they have been turning to non-news- paper web sites to view the car- toons, with the direction to the "uncensored" sites and blogs be- ing provided by the newspaper web sites, in some instances made easy with click-throughs." Fairfax has made it clear that, as a company, is has not prohibited publication of the cartoons. Bruce Wolpe, director of corporate af- fairs, said it was up to the editors of each newspaper to decide if they should republish the original Danish material. Defending the decision of the New Zealand titles to run the car- toons, he said it should be clearly understood that The Dominion Post and The Press had published the illustrations in the context of explaining the whole controversy to their readers and there was a news article, a lead editorial and an analysis piece. In an explanation he gave on ABC radio why he had decided against publication, Sydney Morn- ing Herald Editor Alan Oakley said the issue had been discussed a lot. "It is an issue of free speech... but we make self-censorship decisions quite a lot of the time." Self-censor- ship was something that newspa- pers engaged in all the time. David Penberthy, editor of Sydney's, The Daily Telegraph, be- lieves that "you do have to have a bit of a social responsibility in the newspaper to think through those kind of things, particularly at a time when there have been a lot of tensions in Sydney between Anglo-Australians and particularly Lebanese Muslims. In Melbourne, Peter Blunden, editor of the country's top-selling newspaper, The Herald Sun, said he did not need to publish the car- toons to show press freedom. To do so would produce "more trouble than it's worth." "Why would you put people at risk?" he asked. In defending its decision not to publish the caricatures, The New Zealand Herald in Auckland has said they had no other pur- pose than to offend. A "where do you stand" poll run by Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald web site, smh.com.au, has come up with a thought-provoking result for editors. More than 15,000 readers voted -- a well-above average re- sponse. Those who felt the cartoons should be published because "it's freedom of speech) totalled 58 per cent; publish because it helps un- derstand the protest" was 10 per cent. The vote for "don't publish -- it's too inflammatory" was 12 per cent and "don't publish -- it's a cheap shot" was 20 per cent. February 2006 PANPA BULLETIN | 23 CONTENT Publish and perish? The catastrophic fallout of the Danish Islamic cartoon saga grows by the minute. Bangladeshi Muslim supporters of "Islami Chatra Morcha", an Islamic group, burn a Danish flag during a protest in Dhaka February 8. The protesters were demonstrating against cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad published in European newspapers. Fairfaxphotos/Rafiqur Rahman