Friday, February 10, 2006

'Freedom of Expression' - Fear or Defiance?

In today’s Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer makes an interesting point in his column. He suggests that while the US media have not shown the controversial Danish cartoons (last night, NBC News blurred the picture when the addressed the subject) out of fear, the European press (and sometimes television) has shown them out of defiance.

There is a "sensitivity" argument for not having published the cartoons in the first place, back in September when they first appeared in that Danish newspaper. But it is not September. It is February. The cartoons have been published, and the newspaper, the publishers and Denmark itself have come under savage attack. After multiple arsons, devastating boycotts, and threats to cut off hands and heads, the issue is no longer news value, i.e., whether a newspaper needs to publish them to inform the audience about what is going on. The issue now is solidarity.
The mob is trying to dictate to Western newspapers, indeed Western governments, what is a legitimate subject for discussion and caricature.

The point is who decides what can be said and what can be drawn within the precincts of what we quaintly think of as the free world.
The mob has turned this into a test case for freedom of speech in the West. The German, French and Italian newspapers that republished these cartoons did so not to inform but to defy -- to declare that they will not be intimidated by the mob.
What is at issue is fear. The unspoken reason many newspapers do not want to republish is not sensitivity but simple fear.

The word 'mob' may be misleading - it is not spontaneous violence, it is the 'unleashed evil' of political propaganda allowed or fomented by non-democratic governments who are trying to switch the focus from their own troubles to an easy scapegoat.

It also seems to me, and here I disagree with Krauthammer, that the press (in the West) is mostly there to inform, not to defy and certainly not to cave in to fear ( about a volatile political situation). I think the best choice is simply to show the pictures precisely because the are part of the news – period. The media are supposed to inform the readers or the viewers what we’re dealing with and to let them make their own mind and they shoould show the cartoons in that spirit. Not showing them is thus a form of bias. On the other hand, showing simply to defy seems to pointless - after all 'freedom of speech’ is not threatened in Europe. The only brave move was to publish them in Jordan.

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