Freedom of the press versus sensitivity and respect (Fawson)

By By Jessica Fawson

By Jessica Fawson

The freedom of the press is granted as a right in the United States Constitution-but that doesn’t give the media a blank check when it comes to what we print or say.

A free society needs a free press, but that doesn’t mean that respect and sensitivity should fly out the window.

We as the media have forgotten that sensitivity and respect are a duty when dealing with issues that could affect peoples’ lives. We forgot that what gets printed in the paper can affect people.

Riots have broken out over the printing of 12 editorial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. The most offensive of these is one of the prophet Muhammad with a bomb as his turban.

Non-extremists see this as portraying an extremely negative stereotype-that all Muslims believe in violence and that the prophet Muhammad would have also been a suicide bomber.

These cartoons portray the leader of a major world religion as an example of extremism. The equivalent would be comparing the Pope to Hitler just because they were both Christian-which Westerners would find highly offensive on a number of levels.

Humor and satire only work positively when not considered absolutely insulting, as these cartoons are considered by the Islamic world.

Freedom of the press does not allow the government to censor the media; however, that freedom does not mean that the media should print everything, no matter how offensive. The media should control themselves by the good judgment of the managing staff-the editors, if not by the writers themselves.

The media do not live in a world by itself but in an ever-connected world and should remember that.

Ironically, the 12 cartoons were placed around an article discussing the lack of freedom of the press in the Middle East-ironic because these cartoons are likely to encourage more stringent censorship. Instead of fostering discussion in many of those nations, these cartoons provided an example of why the media cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

Many in the Islamic world already feel that their culture is under attack, that we in the West believe that our way of thinking is the only way to think. By publishing these cartoons we have more evidence for such an argument. We are attacking not only the Islamic world’s deeply held religious beliefs but also its cultural identity.

That is not to say that those who use these cartoons are justified in their violent actions-they are not! However, a little sensitivity to the Islamic nations and people of the world could go a long way.

But it doesn’t look good for the West when we become outraged over riots, bomb threats and diplomatic ties being broken but lack that same outrage for the provocation of such actions.

All of us know that insulting a person with an anger management problem is not a wise decision-and taking a jab at the deeply held beliefs of Muslims everywhere is like begging the extremist minority to riot.

Some issues, like people, deserve more sensitivity than others. Discussions need to happen about the lack of some freedoms in the Islamic nations, but they need to happen in a civil and empathetic way. Insulting religious beliefs through editorial cartoons was not the path with which this discussion should have begun if we wanted to bring about civil discussion.

Islam is not above criticism but neither are the media. It is important for the media to remember our duty to be civil and use prudent judgment so that we do not escalate violence but instead promote discussion.

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