Monday, 19 January 2015

"The magazine has enough news
value to warrant its publication"

The Economist
I Have To Draw Him
Since the killing of Charlie Hebdo's staff last week, and the newspaper's defiant new Mohammed cartoon this week, other media outlets have been presented with a dilemma: to publish, or not to publish? (Most recently, the cover was printed in yesterday's Le Journal Du Dimanche in France, and in Saturday's Avadhnama in India.) As was the case after the Jyllands-Posten controversy in 2005, many European newspapers printed Mohammed cartoons in solidarity, though the American media largely avoided doing so.

Some newspapers have printed the cover alongside editorial statements citing its news value. On Tuesday, USA Today wrote: "USA TODAY traditionally does not show images of Mohammed to avoid offending Muslim readers, but the magazine has enough news value to warrant its publication in this case." In the UK, later editions of The Guardian on Tuesday explained: "The Guardian is running this cover as its news value warrants publication." Similarly, Wednesday's Financial Times stated: "The Financial Times is publishing the image because of its news value."

In The Guardian today, the readers' editor discusses the newspaper's publication of the Charlie Hebdo cover: "Two decisions were key to the Guardian's coverage of the killings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris – one not to reproduce offensive cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that the magazine had published before the killings, and the second to show the front cover of the magazine produced afterwards, which also featured an image of Muhammad."

Perhaps surprisingly, on Thursday the South Wales Argus also printed the Charlie Hebdo cover, alongside a lengthy article justifying their decision (again, based on news value): "This is not a decision we have taken lightly or without a great deal of thought and discussion. And its publication is not intended to cause gratuitous offence to any of our readers, particularly among the Muslim community, although we accept that it will be offensive to some people. We are aware of the many and heartfelt sensitivities surrounding the publication of this magazine. But we are printing the image on the basis of its news value."

In contrast, most media outlets have not reproduced the new cover. The day after the Charlie Hebdo killings, the New York Times stated: "The New York Times has chosen not to reprint examples of the magazine's most controversial work because of its intentionally offensive content." On Wednesday's Sky News Tonight programme in the UK, a guest was prevented from showing the cover, and the presenter said: "at Sky News, we have chosen not to show that cover". On BBC1's Question Time on 8th January, presenter David Dimbleby quoted internal BBC policy: "The Prophet Mohammed must not be represented in any shape or form."

The current issue of The Economist magazine, published on Saturday, does include the Charlie Hebdo cover, though printers in Singapore refused to print the image. The page was therefore left blank, with a message stating: "In most of our editions this page included a picture showing the current cover of Charlie Hebdo. Our Singapore printers declined to print it."

Two newspapers that printed the cover have subsequently apologised for doing so. The Citizen in South Africa carried a front-page statement on Thursday: "Yesterday, in our continuing coverage of the Charlie Hebdo aftermath, we published an image which caused offence to many Muslim readers. We regret this oversight. We apologise to all who were offended." On Wednesday, The Star in Kenya wrote: "The Star sincerely regrets any offence and pain caused by the picture and we will bear Muslim sensibilities in mind in future."

Cartoonists themselves are faced with a similar quandary: to draw, or not to draw? This was perhaps best demonstrated by Plantu in a front-page Le Monde cartoon in 2006, in which the phrase "I must not draw Mohammed" forms a representation of Mohammed himself. Eli Valley's cartoon strip I Have To Draw Him includes only a drawing of Mohammed's eye, as an expression of artistic self-censorship; some frames from his cartoon were broadcast on CNN's Reliable Sources programme yesterday.

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