Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"To Publish or not to Publish? The Canadian News Media and the Danish Cartoon Controversy"

Gillian Steward, "To Publish or not to Publish? The Canadian News Media and the Danish Cartoon Controversy" in Janet Keeping, et al. (eds), Deal with it!  Free Speech, Ethics and the Law in Canada (Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, 2013).

Steward's article provides a nice summary of the reaction of the Canadian newspaper and broadcast press to the worldwide controversy over the famous Jyllands-Posten Muhammed cartoons.  Steward notes that in Canada, no mainstream media organization was willing to show the cartoons while reporting on the controversy.  Steward provides extracts from editorials by Canadian newspaper and t.v. news stations about why they didn't show the cartoons, and summarizes them nicely:

"The rational provided by television and newspaper executives regarding their decision not to publish the cartoons emphasized respect for religion and other cultures as the main reason.  The discourse reveals that the media executives did not want to offend members of the audience.  It also emphasized Islamic belief that it is disrespectful or blasphemous to publish images of the prophet Mohammed, even though Canada is a secular society.  None of the television or newspaper executives explained why the cartoons had been published in the first place or what issues they raised for citizens of a liberal democracy as [editor] Flemming Rose of the Jyllands-Posten had done when the cartoons were originally published.  Although all the news media executives cited freedom of speech or the press as vital to democracy they opted to give respect for religion a higher priority in this situation.  And yet, in their own code of ethics, freedom of expression tops the list."  (p. 91)

Two small publications, the Jewish Free Press and The Weekly Standard were the only members of the media that did reprint the cartoons, and Steward also includes extracts from their editorials explaining why.

Overall, she concludes:

"In both Canada and the United States freedom of expression did not win the day during the cartoon controversy.  Instead, mainstream media executives employed a different discourse, one which emphasized control, social harmony and respect.  In many ways, it was a discourse that seemed closer to the ideals of Islamic media codes of ethics than those of a liberal democracy.  It was left to smaller, more vulnerable publications to exercise freedom of expression and publish the cartoons." (p. 93)

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