Politiken and the Mohammed Cartoon: The Wrong Settlement

The following is the official press release from the Danish Comics Council on yesterday’s news of Danish newspaper Politiken‘s settlement with eight Muslim organisations on its publication of the most infamous Mohammed cartoon:

The Danish Comics Council has learned that the Copenhagen daily Politiken has reached a settlement with eight international Muslim organisations representing the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed. In it, Politiken apologises for having offended Muslim sentiments, but not for having published the infamous Bomb in the Turban (which they did in connection with the news of a assasination plot against cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in February 2008).

The Danish Comics Council disapproves of Politiken‘s decision, which we think threatens freedom of speech. Politiken‘s published Westergaard’s cartoon in full accordance with Danish law and press ethics, so there is nothing to apologise for. The risk of feeling offended by an article or a cartoon is, for better or worse, an essential condition in a society with freedom of speech.

By this settlement, Politiken has weathered the threat of a major lawsuit, which the offended party would probably have lost, if it had been heard by a European court, just like we saw it with the lawsuit against the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo for having published the Danish cartoons.

In an interview with his own newspaper, the editor-in-chief at Politiken, Tøger Seidenfaden, says that the settlement “may help ease some of the enduring tensions that have continued popping up.” It is possible that Politiken will succeed in reducing the strain on society posed by this issue in the short term, but at the same time it encourages those opposing freedom of speech in their future endeavours. This is worrying.

The Danish Comics Council hopes that the other Danish newspapers will avoid the temptation of similar settlements in this case. Our freedom of speech is at risk.

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