Newsletter No 16 01 February 2006
News from the Media Scene:
Cartoons Depicting the Prophet Draw Fire

Condemnation by Arab governments and Arab and Muslim institutions have led the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten to apologize for publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Danish Prime minister has expressed his personal regret.

When the paper published the cartoons in September, it said the cartoons were a test of whether fear of Islamic retribution had begun to limit freedom of expression in Denmark. The Norwegian magazine Magazinet reprinted the cartoons in December.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League said on 29 January they were seeking for an UN resolution to protect religions after publication of the cartoons.

On January 27, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark to protest the Danish authorities lack of intervention in the case. Other countries like Jordan, Bahrain, Syria and Kuwait condemned the publishing of the cartoons. Libya announced on 29 January it had decided to close its embassy in Denmark to protest the Danish authorities silence about the cartoons.

Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen has stressed his country’s commitment to press freedom. In his New Year’s message, he described freedom of expression as “vital,” as “absolute” and as “non-negotiable.” But he also condemned “any form of expression, action or signs that tended to demonize a group of people on the basis of their religion.”

On 30 January, Rasmussen said he personally regretted the cartoons. “"I could never have presented Mohammed, Jesus or other religious figures in a manner which could be insulting to others," he said.

But he also repeated his position, which has been strongly supported by the European Union in the face of protests from the Islamic world, that governments do not control the media in free societies. "I cannot call the editors and decide what they should publish in the Danish media," he said.

Besides from political condemnations, Danish and Norwegian products are suffering a boycott from Arab importers and consumers. Many major supermarkets in the Gulf region started withdrawing products from those countries on 27 January. Some 50 companies decided to stop Danish goods.

Facing the pressure, Carsten Juste, Jyllands-Posten Editor-in-Chief, posted a letter in Arabic on the paper’s website on 28 January. The letter aims to explain what he calls a “misunderstanding.”

In the letter, Juste says: “The newspaper did not aim to hurt anyone’s religious believes but unfortunately this is what happened. We feel sorry that the issue has reached these limits and, therefore, we reiterate that it was not our aim to hurt anybody. We, as the rest of the Danish society, believe in the respect of the freedom of religion.”

"These cartoons were not in violation of Danish law but have irrefutably offended many Muslims, and for that we apologize," wrote the Jyllands-Posten daily Editor-in-Chief on 30 January in a letter to the Petra news agency in Jordan.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the editor's apology. "It delights me enormously that Jyllands-Posten took this evening a very essential step," he said on DR1 public television, adding that he hoped it would "contribute constructively to a solution" to this crisis.

"It is normal in a society where the press is free and independent that the solution comes above all from the media, because it is not the government which writes the newspapers," he added.

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