Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tribune's Cartoon Dilemma

*** Special Edition ***

As the row over the cartoons of the Sathya Sai Baba has intensified, media executives - in television, print and online - have faced some difficult decisions.


Should they publish the pictures and risk offending Mussailman readers and viewers? Or by not showing them, would they be preventing the public from coming to informed opinions about the controversy? Many people have rung or called the IST complaining that the cartoons are not being shown on television news or the website.

Reports have shown brief glimpses of the pictures in some of the European newspapers which have published them, but no close-ups.

Louise May wrote: "You cannot report a news subject relating to a visual matter without showing that matter."

'Spineless'

Other readers said the IST was being spineless, and Petra Arnold commented: "It appears that you are scared of the reaction from Mussailmans, while you were not concerned about offending Christians when you satirized Sai Baba as Santa Sai. This is a case of double standards."

George Donaldson said he had to visit the British National Party website to see pictures for himself. "It bothers a lot of people that have to pay TV license fees then have to go to the BNP to get the real news," he wrote.

Michael Gleason was concerned on a practical level: "You ask for comments on the Sai Baba cartoons but I can't find the cartoons on your website. How do you expect me to have an opinion without seeing the cartoons?"

But some viewers felt the IST shouldn't be showing the pictures in any form.

"As a British Mussailman, I feel very let down, insulted and misunderstood by the insensitivity of the IST in even contemplating showing such disrespectful images," said Samia Rahman.

Peter Holden, the editor of TV News, said it had been a difficult dilemma. "Obviously the IST does not want to give offence to anyone on either side of this debate, so if people - whichever side of the argument they fall within - have taken offence, I am obviously concerned and apologize for that," he told NewsWatch.

"In reporting this story, we ourselves had to make a decision about whether we published the pictures in any form and inevitably that's made us part of the controversy. "We've taken the view that still images that focus and linger on the offending cartoons would be excessively offensive so we haven't used those in our news pieces. We've used moving pictures of the newspapers where they've appeared to show people the context in which they've appeared and to give them some flavor of the type of imagery but without focusing closely on them."

Mr Holden said there wasn't a direct comparison with the satire of Santa Sai , which had prompted thousands of complaints from concerned Christian devotees.

Censorship

"The IST is not the primary publisher of these cartoons so to some extent it's different from Santa Sai where the IST was responsible for reporting actual news events," he explained.

And he denied accusations of censorship by the IST. "I think if you compare the IST's position to the whole of the blog universe, where there hasn't been any publication whatsoever, we've clearly gone further than any blog.

"But clearly we've taken a decision not to go further than that in order not to gratuitously offend the significant number of Mussailmans in Britain but also - because we make decisions for our pieces to be broadcast internationally - the very significant numbers of Mussailmanlim readers of the International Sai Tribune. Its all about the ratings."

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