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1 February, 2006

Print and be damned

In my view, the inseparable converse, even the corollary, of freedom of speech is the responsibility of self-censorship.  One may have the right to say something, but one shouldn't deliberately and unproductively make a special effort to exercise it, knowing that it offends others, merely because one can.

Last September, a Danish newspaper offended Muslims by depicting Muhammad (at all, never mind caricatured as a terrorist) in cartoons. The issue grew and grew, to the point of affecting Danish national interests and even the personal safety of Nordic people visiting Islamic nations. Yesterday, the newspaper publicly apologised.

The BBC reports that a French newspaper republished the offending cartoons today, "to show that 'religious dogma' has no place in a secular society."
I suppose that in law, they have that right, but it's massively and unnecessarily disrespectful to exercise that right. It was a ****ing stupid thing to do, and the newspaper should take full responsibility for any consequences. I don't think it's overdramatic to expect that that might include violent deaths – all so some journalist can feel a frisson of self-righteousness about the freedom of the secular press.

One thing with which I do agree is that these are the actions of an independent press, not the responsibility of the Danish or French governments; I hope the distinction is remembered and the people of Denmark and France aren't blamed for the foolishness of individuals.

[Update 17:22: Bugger. That BBC article fails to mention that more newspapers, in Germany, Italy and Spain have republished the caricatures.]

[Update 02/02/06: The French newspaper, France Soir, subsequently apologised and sacked its managing editor "as a powerful sign of respect for the intimate beliefs and convictions of every individual".
It seems the Spanish and Italian papers only republished smaller versions of the cartoons in the context of reporting the story, which I do think is reasonable and not intended to offend.]

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