Monday, February 20, 2006

Current Journalism Ethics Issue: Controversial Cartoons

I think the response to Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad has been really interesting for two reasons. The first is the amount of violence and threats of violence from the radical muslim world in response to the pictures. The second is the condemnation the Danish newspaper has come under. The Society of Professional Journalists has released an interesting statement about the controversy on their website.

Society of Professional Journalists Statement

The cartoons were originally published in the paper after the Danish author of a children's book about Muhammad could find no one to illustrate his book. The newspaper Jyllands-Posten picked up the story out of interest as to whether artists were sensoring themselves out of fear of reprisal, since in the Islamic religion any drawing of Muhammad is considered blasphemous. They published 12 cartoons featuring Muhammad in their paper. The cartoons were not meant to insult; they were a reaction to a rising number of cases of self-censorship, a statement about, or test of, freedom of the press in Denmark. You can see some of the 12 cartoons on the website of The Brussels Journal.

Muhammad Cartoons

I think this is a really important ethics issue because although it seems wrong, or at the very least in very poor taste, to publish something blatantly offensive to members of a certain religion, it seems even more wrong to NOT publish something out of fear of reprisal. The Danish newspaper seems to have hit on what probably should be the fundamental ethics question here: Are journalists and those in the media tip-toeing around anything offensive to Muslims out of fear of reprisal? It's interesting that some of the Muhammad cartoonists have had to go into hiding, and the newspaper is now being protected by securtiy guards.

At the same time, according to The Brussels Journal,
"...[I]n Brussels a young Muslim immigrant published a poster depicting the Virgin Mary with naked breasts. Though the picture has drawn some protest from Catholics (though not from Western embassies, nor from the bishops), this artist need not fear being murdered in the street. On the contrary, he is being subsidised by the Ministry for Culture."
There seems to be a double standard here.

Although the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists states that journalists should, "treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect," "examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others," and "avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status," I don't think that the Jyllands-Posten acted unethically. They were well within their rights of freedom of speech, and quite frankly, I think they made a good point.

Okay, my links aren't working, which isn't surprising since I'm computer handicapped.
The websites are, so you can get there manually,
for Professional Journalists statement: http://www.spj.org/news.asp?ref=548
for Cartoons: http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/698

2 comments:

Moulton said...

I edited your post to fix the HTML errors. Links are tagged with 'HREF' (not 'HRFF').

Boy Scout said...

Thanks Moulton.