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Abusing freedom of expression

By Syed Atiq ul Hassan - posted Friday, 10 February 2006

Journalism is the discipline of collecting, verifying, analysing and presenting stories and images in a fair and neutral manner. The primary goal of media, particularly the print media, is to inform, criticise and to correct. Media plays an important role not only in the on going civic development of society but also to create awareness among the masses on the various issues. Media has the capacity to shape public opinion and perceptions, and this devolves a great responsibility on the media associates.

Newspapers are supposed to be institutions of professional finesse and grace, giving an edge to their commitment to serve the public interest. In return, they receive loyal support that sustains them and enhances their ability to serve public interest. Journalists should be extra careful while documenting, reporting and cartooning their work to avoid disrespect of any faith, culture and race.

The publication of offensive caricatures of Prophet Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten and then reproduced by many newspapers including in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Hungary, Norway and Czech Republic, are the extreme act of promoting disharmony and humiliation worldwide. One can not see that producing this kind of journalism would serve any benefit to an individual or community except to generate hatred and division. It is also a responsibility of the media to consider the implication of every article published and not just the selling parameters.


Defending the (offensive cartoons) publication the editor of Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten said, “We do not apologise for printing the cartoons. It was our right to do so … This is about standing for fundamental values that have been the (foundation) for the development of Western democracies over several hundred years, and we are now in a situation where those values are being challenged.”

The editor’s response illustrates it was a deliberate act to publish explosive material against the Muslim community at large. But it is not only the global Muslim community who have been disgraced by these drawings, but also the reputation of Denmark around the world, and its relationship with the Muslim world. According to Denmark's consul in Dubai, a boycott of Danish products in the Gulf has cost the country A$27million. Many Islamic countries officially lodged a strong protest to the Danish Government through their diplomatic channels.

The editor must know that freedom of expression should not promote humiliation or insults against other human beings. It is a shame that some other media publishers, editors and renowned journalists are also referring to these offensive cartoons as a part of their "freedom of expression". Freedom of expression is there to promote healthy journalism, which should help society maintain better understanding and communication among people of different faiths, cultures and races but should not hurt someone’s feelings and faith. Freedom of expression does not mean absence of any values, ethics or laws but rather protection and respect of the rights of individuals as well as their religious and social values.

The publication of insulting caricatures of a prophet of one of the major global religions of the world could seriously jeopardise relations between the East and West, especially at a time when the world is already fighting against religious hatred and extremism.

In any free society there are ethics and codes of conduct which must be honoured by journalists when producing stories and art. Whether it is in the West or East, the freedom of expression always defines its limits. Insulting individuals, groups or communities deliberately is not permissible in any free society. Hurting many Muslims by creating imaginary drawings of this type, that could consequently lead to violence, can not be considered an activity categorised under "freedom of expression".

Unfortunately, time and again, the world witnesses the incidents of promoting obnoxious and ignominious ideas by those filthy minds who claim themselves to be scholars, writers and journalists.


In 1988 Salman Rushdie wrote a controversial novel Satanic Verses where he was accused of blasphemy and insulting Islam and Prophet Mohammad. He was condemned to death by then Iranian leader Imam Khomeini, but Salman received many awards from the West including Whitbread Novel Award and the European Union's Aristeion Prize for Literature.

In 1993, a Bangladeshi feminist writer, Taslima Nasreen, wrote a controversial novel Shame where she suggested changes to the Holy Koran. The novel widely condemned as blasphemous in the Muslim world but Taslima was protected, offered citizenship and received large popularity in the West.

First in 1997 in Texan town of Corpus Christi then in 2004, a controversial theatre production of Corpus Christi portrayed Jesus Christ as gay. The play hurt the feelings of many strong believer of Jesus but no action was taken against the production team.

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About the Author

Syed Atiq ul Hassan, is senior journalist, writer, media analyst and foreign correspondent for foreign media agencies in Australia. His email is

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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