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"Robust Debate": Denmark Cartoonists Row

IFJ Calls for “Robust Debate” as Denmark Cartoonists Row Leads to Media Sacking

The role of media in promoting better understanding between different cultures calls for a “robust and frank” dialogue among journalists and media professionals said the International Federation of Journalists today, commenting on the row over cartoons in Danish media which have sparked outrage in some parts of the Muslim world.

The IFJ is calling for media on all sides to avoid actions that might provoke community tensions both at home and abroad.

The IFJ has also expressed concern at the dismissal of French editor, Jacques Lefranc of France Soir, for printing a new cartoon and reprinting the Danish cartoon, which it says “sends a dangerous signal about unacceptable pressure on independent journalism.” The IFJ says that Arab-world governments calling for political action against media are guilty of undue interference in the work of journalists.

The IFJ is planning to relaunch the International Media Working Group Against Racism and Xenophobia (IMRAX) this year and says the controversy over a series of cartoons commissioned and published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, showing images of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, which are deeply offensive to many Muslims, has opened up a professional divide over questions of free expression and cultural sensitivity.

“These are dangerous times for community relations and media have to tread carefully, but they must not compromise fundamental principles as they do so,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, on a visit to Doha at an international media forum organised by the Arab satellite Channel Al-Jazeera.

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White said that widespread reporting of the cartoonists’ issue in the Arab world failed to appreciate the importance of free expression, although media were rightly drawing attention to the offence that the newspaper had caused. Since the issue has been raised other newspapers in Europe have joined the controversy by reprinting the cartoons.

“This affair shows that there are two distinct views about press freedom, based upon different traditions, we need to respect these different points of view without compromising the cardinal principles of journalism,” said White. “In particular, political interventions are unacceptable. This is an ethical issue which must be discussed, debated and resolved by journalists. Governments should keep their hands out of the newsroom and stop interfering.”

White said that controversy over the cartoons revealed a gulf in understanding that needs to be corrected through an awareness-raising exercise allowing journalists from the Muslim world and colleagues from other religious and cultural traditions to learn the lessons of recent events.

“This row has been rumbling along for months and now the temperature is being turned up in a way that helps no-one,” said White. “It is time to talk through the differences that have been exposed without confrontation.”

The IFJ Congress in Greece in 2004 called for the relaunching of IMRAX in the light of concerns over growing racism and intolerance in many countries, much of it reinforced by fears over terrorism and public anxiety over migration and asylum policy.

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