13 February 2006

New Statesman admits it's too scared to publish cartoons.

Writing in the New Statesman, Peter Wilby has been honest enough to admit he is too scared to publish the Mohammed Cartoons. I don't blame him, religious nutters are scary! The potential threats to his staff and their families and the economic impact from Muslim newsagents refusing to stock the magazine proved too much.

There is some legitimacy in saying the cartoons don't deserve publication for artistic reasons or that inflicting satirical offence should only happen to the rich and powerful and not those groups already weak and repressed, but ultimately there is no justification (other than fear) for not showing us legal cartoons that are at the centre of a major news story. Those newspapers that pretended otherwise and claimed some moral justification for not publishing the cartoons have let us down and more frighteningly the religious bullies have won a significant victory over our free speech. Those who claim that religion is not gaining in power, reflect on what is happening here and in the US, where no politician who acknowledges atheism will win high office.


  1. Peter does a good job of dissecting the different reasons one may wish to publish anything, or not. As he says, he only has 1 reason that he *would* publish for - "to illustrate what all the fuss is about". I assume by this he means because the cartoons are part of the debate, which is fair.

    He wholeheartedly dismisses the idea, though, that one should publish just for the sake of publishing. He says: "I would not, however, rush to reprint the Danish cartoons purely to show solidarity... That would show solidarity with an apparently offensive intent as well as with freedom of expression."

    In this, I think, he talks sense. And a simialr reason is given quite eloquently in the NS leader article too, which says: "we are prepared to take great risks and to cause offence, but only in the name of good journalism". I can't help but think that this kind of mature ability to step back reflects a more professional manner than simply publishing something to prove you can insult someone.

    It's a difficult balance of course - some of the cartoons could be perceived as being satirical (while some are simply unfunny), and the line between drawing attention to something, and arrogant fun-poking is often a fine one. But it's important, I think, to not immediately start waving red flags at bulls just because you want to.

  2. Why not publish the ones that are 'satirical' and not publish the others on the argument that they are too offensive or uninteresting (which is what I have done in publishing one of the cartoons that I found funny)?

    But none of the British press have done this. They have ruled out publishing 'any' of them. I would respect their decision if they admitted they were too scared of the consequences, which is what Peter argues;

    "Yet I still would not publish. Why? Fear, funk, cowardice, pusillanimity - call it what you will. I would worry for myself, my family, staff and contributors - and for my paper, given the high proportion of Muslims among British newsagents. But I hope I would not dress it up as something else, as nearly all British newspapers have done in recent days."

    But what I don't understand or appreciate is them pretending they are taking the moral highground; this is doing untold damage to our free speech to mock religion.

    As Peter says;

    "As for the editors, they're scaredy-cats, as I would be."