Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Newspaper Is Not A Monastery

Simon Jenkins raises some interesting points in his Times column on the Danish cartoons.

A newspaper is not a monastery, its mind blind to the world and deaf
to reaction. Every inch of published print reflects the views of its
writers and the judgment of its editors. Every day newspapers decide on
the balance of boldness, offence, taste, discretion and recklessness.
They must decide who is to be allowed a voice and who not. They are
curbed by libel laws, common decency and their own sense of what is
acceptable to readers. Speech is free only on a mountain top; all else
is editing.

Despite Britons’ robust attitude to religion, no newspaper
would let a cartoonist depict Jesus Christ dropping cluster bombs, or
lampoon the Holocaust. Pictures of bodies are not carried if they are
likely to be seen by family members. Privacy and dignity are respected,
even if such restraint is usually unknown to readers. Over every page
hovers a censor, even if he is graced with the title of editor.

To imply that some great issue of censorship is raised by the
Danish cartoons is nonsense. They were offensive and inflammatory. The
best policy would have been to apologise and shut up. For Danish
journalists to demand “Europe-wide solidarity” in the cause of free
speech and to deride those who are offended as “fundamentalists . . .
who have a problem with the entire western world” comes close to racial
provocation. We do not go about punching people in the face to test
their commitment to non-violence. To be a European should not involve
initiation by religious insult.

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