Saturday, February 04, 2006

Street of Fucking Shame


*

We all know about the Danish cartoon affair. As a British journalist, one interesting thing for me, within this affair, is the way not a single British newspaper has seen fit to publish the offending caricatures of Mohammad.

Many of the most important papers in Europe have now published these cartoons - Liberation, Die Welt, La Stampa, El Pais. Smaller papers in smaller countries have also run the Danish Dozen: papers in Norway, Iceland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Hungary, Swizterland. Big papers in America are finally following suit - papers like the New York Sun and the L A Times. Even a couple of journals in The Middle East - in Jordan and the Lebanon - have seen fit to publish, at great risk.

But not one in Britain. Why? Given this stark difference, there must be something unique in the British press situation that makes them behave more circumspectly in this matter. What is it? The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, with all the inspiring courage of a man with 30,000 Muslim constituents to worry about, and not a shred of principle to bother him, has condemned all the European papers for republishing; he has also praised the British media for showing such sensitivity to ethnic feelings as to not publish.

Is that the reason then? The British Press is just nicer to ethnic and religious minorities, and more tenderly aware of their feelings? A brief glance at a few headlines of the last two years would quickly scotch that notion. The UK papers have no fear of 'hurt feelings' when it comes to attacking gypsies, asylum seekers, mad Christians, or even gays in politics; remember the Sun's blackly funny headline last week, when the second Liberal Democract leadership campaigner was revealed as gay: 'Another one bites the pillow'?

No, I don't buy the angle that papers like the Mail, Express, Star, or even the Telegraph and Times, or the Guardian and Independent, have suddenly become so sensitive to minority or religious feelings, that it would be enough to overcome their strong urge to publish in solidarity with their European colleagues (And lots of UK journos do want to publish the toons, trust me.)

So, again, what is holding UK editors back, compared to the rest of the world?

One thing is Salman Rushdie. The Rushdie affair had a big effect in Britain. The writer was British, he was hounded in Britain, he was nearly killed in Britain. No British editor wants to suffer the visible fate of that British subject. And the editors fear that that might very well happen if they publish.

But it should be mentioned in passing here that the Netherlands have only just had the Theo V Gogh case, when a filmmaker was stabbed to death in the street for being 'Islamophobic' - and the Netherlands has still published - which perhaps shows that the best word for the attitude on the British side of the Channel is probably... cowardice

Second, and very significant, for UK editors, is the role of Muslim newsagents. If any paper ran the toons, they would risk a boycott from their many Muslim newsagents which could be disastrous for any paper in terms of sales. And it could last for years. No editor would blithtly antagonise his retailers, like that, without a damn good reason.

Some would say defending free speech is about as good a reason you can get when you are a newspaper, but evidently not.

So there you have it. Britain hasn't published, when everyone else has, because of personal cowardice, and corporate greed.

Well done guys.


*Thanks to Harry's Place commenters for this image.
And the guy who photoshopped it, obv.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually you missed another point. If a paper in England publishes the cartoons, the Met Police have stated that the papers would not be protected from "protestors". One British paper (forgotton which one now) did publish them online for a moment, but took them back quickly because of safety reasons... They were advised by the police, you see.

So, papers in England do not publish because their safety is at risk.

Scandelous.



Steven

Anonymous said...

ps, the one I am talking about is not the BBC. What they did was show a video of someone reading a newspaper which had the cartoons on them. The result in London was completely out of proportion. I have started feeling less comfortable living in England recently.



Steven

Adam Gurri said...

So, papers in England do not publish because their safety is at risk.

I believe "personal cowardice" was already covered.

Anonymous said...

Kind of gives a whole new meaning to the term "yellow journalism" doesn't it?