Abusing the Freedom of Expression

Journalism is a discipline of collecting, verifying, analyzing and presenting the stories and images in fair and neutral manner including trends, issues and people.The primary goal of media particularly the print media is to inform, criticize and to correct. Media plays an important role not only in the on going civic development of the 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 the institute 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. The 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 in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Hungary, Norway and Czech Republic are the extreme act of promoting disharmony and humiliation worldwide. One cannot see producing these kinds of journalism would serve any benefit to any individual or community except generate hatred and division globally. It is also a responsibility of the media to consider the implication of every article published on people’s mind 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 shows the deliberate act of publishing ignited material against the Muslim community by in large. This is not only the global Muslim community who have been disgraced by these drawings but the act has also damaged the reputation Denmark worldwide and its relationship with the Muslim world. According to Denmark’s consul in Dubai, a boycott of Danish products in the Gulf has costed the country $27m. Many Islamic countries officially lodged strong protest to Danish government through their diplomatic channels.

The editor must know that no freedom of expression promotes humiliation or insults against other human being. It is a shame that some other media publishers, editors and renowned journalists are referring to these offensive cartoons as a part of freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is there to promote healthy journalism which should help the society in maintaining better understanding and communication among the people of different faith, culture and race on various issues but not to hurt someone’s sentiments and faith. Freedom of expression does not mean absence of any values, ethics or laws rather protection and respect of the rights of individuals as well as their religious and social values.

The publication of such insulting caricatures of a prophet of one of the major global religion of the world would seriously jeopardize the common endeavours among the West and East, especially in present time when the world is already fighting against religious hatred and extremism.

In any free society there are ethics and code of conducts which must be honoured by the journalists while producing their stories and artistic work. Whether it is in the West or East, the freedom of expression always defines its limits. Insulting individual, group or community deliberately is not permissible any free society. Hurting many by creating imaginary drawings of such a nature that those could consequently lead to violence can not be considered as an activity categorised under freedom of expression.

Unfortunately, time and again, world witnesses the incidents of promoting obnoxious and ignominious ideas by those filthy minds who claim themselves as 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 decreed to death by then Iranian leader Imam Khomeini but Salman received many awards from the west including Whitbread Novel Award and European Union’s Aristeion Prize for Literature.

In 1993, Bangladeshi feminist writer Taslima Nasreen wrote a controversial novel “Shame” where she suggested changes in the Holy Quran. 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.

In January 2002 the New Statesman published a front page displaying a shimmering golden Star of David impaling a union flag, with the words "A kosher conspiracy?" The publication was widely condemned as anti-Semitic.

Attack on religion, prophets and spiritual leaders is not a new dilemma where people of one faith are directly humiliated the section of a community through their negative thoughts. Yet, these elements instead of getting any punishment would get protection and in some case more popularity and protection.

In today’s environment where the world is already experiencing the terrifying reaction from the Islamic extremists these blasphemous publications will promote more hatred among the extremists. While the world is fighting against the religious extremism and terrorism the action is also needed to take serious action against these negative activities by professionals. It is good to see that UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on the international community to combat defamation of all religions and curbs in the tendency against Islam. However, the international community should also establish new laws where insulting of any prophet – doesn’t matter, Mohammed, Jesus, Moses, Budha – or any other god or spiritual leader of any faith must be criminalised. The creators, promoters and publishers of insulting material which directly hurt and harm the society must be accountable and taken to the international court of justice.