Thursday, January 08, 2015

On Not Publishing Islamic Cartoons

It is fully understandable that many publications have declined to print the cartoons of the prophet Muhammed both by Charlie Hebdo and by the Danish cartoonists. It is all very well for a semi anonymous commentator to argue that they should be courageous enough to publish them, but editors have to think about the risk not just to themselves but to their staff. Especially if they have foreign correspondents in Islamic countries.

The editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, has been very direct about why his newspaper would not publish the cartoons:
what right do I have to risk the lives of my staff to make a point? 
What is much more objectionable is denying the reason why they are not publishing them- the threat of lethal violence committed by Islamic extremists.

However other publications refuse to admit that they have been intimidated into not  publishing them, the Daily Telegraph's Will Heaven* argued on Twitter that "if terrorists killed a pornographer, we wouldn't publish porn", implying that it is for reasons of good taste not fear of violence that they won't print them.

This is disingenuous. When the newspaper covers stories featuring offensive images of Christianity such as the infamous "Piss Christ" the image is published so readers understand what the story is about.The same is true when antisemitic material is the subject of a report.The same is true of most news organisations.

In a way it also slanders the artists by telling readers that although the artists obviously did not deserve to be killed for what they have done, their work is obnoxious and perhaps deliberately provocative when that is often very far from the truth.

Some people were even claiming that the Danish cartoons were racist, which was a slur against the cartoonist but not one which is easy to refute when the images are hidden. This one for instance was actually critical of the newspaper's decision to run the competition but the artist is under a death threat for the rest of his life anyway.

By all means refuse to put your life on the line in order to publish cartoons, but be honest about the reason why.

* I use him as an example purely because I saw his tweets this morning, a lot of newspaper made similar arguments back in 2005.

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