The recent controversy thrown up by the decision of several European newspapers to publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed gives us an interesting insight into the editorial policies of many media outlets.
The row originated in Denmark when the Jyllands-Posten newspaper commissioned and published a series of cartoons, one of which shows Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse and another portraying him holding a sword and his eyes covered by a black rectangle. Islam forbids the Prophet to be depicted in any way, let alone in such a degrading manner. The illustrations, published on the front page, were republished in newspapers in Norway, France, Germany, Spain and Italy and have created uproar in the Middle East where Danish products have been boycotted, bomb threats have been made and Syria and Libya have taken diplomatic action.
In covering the story, most European media outlets seem to have adopted one of two strategies. First, front page reprints of the cartoons with accompanying editorial declarations about freedom of speech. This was the the path taken by French newspaper France Soir – and it led to the sacking of the editor. On the other hand, outlets such as the BBC resorted to blurry shots of the cartoons and descriptions of what they show. This, for once, seems to be an example of responsible and tasteful reporting by the media. Whereas some publications have chosen to become part of the story, many have chosen to confine themselves to their primary role, reporting the news.
Hat tip to Carl Foster in Peppercom’s London office for his thoughts.