British "News" Program Censors Mohammad Cartoon While Covering It

Law, Politics & Current Events

Last week I talked about the British controversy over Maajid Nawaz, a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate who tweeted a link to the satirical cartoon Jesus and Mo, which depicts conversations between a cartoon Jesus and a cartoon Mohammad to explore religious beliefs and attitudes.

The United Kingdom's Channel 4 News decided to run a story about the controversy. Naturally they showed a picture of the cartoon so that viewers could make an intelligent assessment of the claims of offense.

Well, sort of.

In Channel 4 News' story, at about :25, the reporter says:

This is the cartoon that is causing outrage. We have taken the decision to cover up the depiction of Mohammed so we don't cause offense to some viewers.

This resulted:

FEARTHEIROFFENSE

Channel 4 News has begged the question in classic form: it has censored a cartoon right at the start of its coverage of a debate about whether the cartoon should be censored. It has blacked out a depiction of Mohammed right at the start of putatively covering a debate over whether the few should be able to demand that the many not depict Mohammed. It has yielded to claims of offense right at the start of a discussion of whether society should yield to those claims of offense.

Even though Channel 4 is owned by a public body, this is not exactly state censorship: it is an exercise of terrible journalistic judgment rather than an act compelled by the state. But it is troublesome nonetheless. Channel 4 has pretended to cover a debate, but has actually presumed the validity of the arguments by one side of that debate. It has assumed, in a discussion of whether a cartoon is so offensive that it ought not be shown, that the cartoon is so offensive that it not be shown. It has decided to yield to a religious minority's demands about what can and cannot be depicted.

I have some questions for the alleged journalists at Channel 4 News.

1. Do you censor artistic depictions based on claims of offense even-handedly? If, for instance, you were covering a local council's decision to prevent a performance of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's show The Bible: The Complete Word of God, would you yield to demands of a few that you not show any clips or screenshots of the play, because it is offensive? Would you, like the Guardian, depict Serrano's "piss Christ" in covering the controversy over it?

2. At what point is a group big enough, or its claim of violence loud enough, for you to censor content based upon it? The United Kingdom has a significant American expat community. If I get enough of them to say that depictions of burning the American flag are offensive, will you avoid showing that on the news?

3. Does the safety of your employees, or of bystanders, play any role in your decision? Are claims of offense by some groups more likely to be accompanied by death threats and even violence?

4. If the answer to 3 is "yes," isn't that news?

5. For two years — here and here — I have done an annual review of how "blasphemy" like depicting Mohammed is treated both by states and, occasionally, by mobs. I submit that evidence shows that the notion of blasphemy — primarily, though not exclusively, as defined by Islam — has been used as a justification for abuse of minorities and the powerless. Have you considered whether your decision to yield to blasphemy norms and censor content makes you a party to that norm, and an implicit supporter of that abuse?

Some of those questions may be offensive to some of your viewers. I can show you how to black them out if you like.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

70 Comments

69 Comments

  1. Bob  •  Jan 29, 2014 @9:23 am

    Ken – the intelligentsia that control the British media are terrified of muslims – absolutely fucking shit scared. Scared of being attacked as they walk home or exit a tube station, scared of death threats or fatwas, scared of them or their family being kidnapped, scared of being labeled a racist (a fate worse than death among the north London bourgeouise). They dislike Islam as much as anyone (the homophobia, misogyny etc..), but they see what happened to Salman Rushdie, Pim Fortuyn, Geert Wilders, Lee Rigby, and others. A little censorship here and there, and the odd critical blog post from free speech campaigners is comfortably a price worth paying to avoid getting on the wrong side of the hyper-sensitive Islamist loons.

  2. Richard Gadsden  •  Jan 29, 2014 @9:24 am

    Channel 4 is state-owned, but not state-controlled.

    It's funded out of its own advertising (and a little bit of revenue from merchandising, IP rights, etc).

    The government has basically no control over C4 – it's effectively a commercial TV station run by a non-profit that happens to be government-owned rather than owned by a trust or a company limited by guarantee.

  3. Grifter  •  Jan 29, 2014 @9:51 am

    @Richard Gadsden,

    Isn't that what Ken said?

  4. rsteinmetz70112  •  Jan 29, 2014 @9:56 am

    I'm always amazed by the asymmetry of religious sensitivity with regard to Islam and Christianity in some circles.

  5. James  •  Jan 29, 2014 @9:57 am

    When Channel 4 News (or really most any major media outlet) broadcast stories on certain sensitive or distressing subjects (e.g. descriptions of child abuse or horrific injuries in war zones, car crashes, etc), they typically preface it with something like "Some viewers may find the following report distressing…".

    I think a similar reasonable warning for any Muslims watching would have been enough here.

  6. Nate Gabriel  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:05 am

    Wouldn't some of the same arguments apply if they *had* shown the cartoon? They wouldn't be quivering and quailing for the censors, but they would still be presuming at the start of the debate that one side is right.
    They'd be right instead of wrong, but they'd still be begging the question.

  7. Bob  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:05 am

    James

    Why even do that? It's a cartoon. You have a right to offend, and you have a right to be offended.

    It's easy to satirize those who don't fight back.
    Part of the problem is that Islamism hasn't been mocked or ridiculed enough.

    Bob

  8. NI  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:13 am

    The practical solution is for everyone to insult the prophet (piss be upon him) at every opportunity so that the Islamist loons simply won't be able to kill everyone who hurts their tender little feelings. I have a cat named Mohammad. She's going to the vet to get fixed next week.

  9. Grifter  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:13 am

    @Nate Gabriel:

    But the difference is that you'd be doing it for practical reasons: to give your audience the tools to make the determination themselves as to whether they think the cartoon warrants the offense. Obviously, you're picking one approach over another. But if you're picking one approach ONLY because of the offense, which limits the viewers from being able to make their own determination, that seems to be giving credence out the gate to the offense.

  10. Albert  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:19 am

    @rsteinmetz70112: I'm always amazed by the asymmetry of religious sensitivity with regard to Islam and Christianity in some circles.

    Let me play the Devil's advocate (joke half-intended) here and just offer the idea that, AFAIU, there is asymmetry already in the religions themselves, where Christianism does not forbid representations of Jesus, while in Islam, Hadiths do prohibit representations of man and, by extension, of Mohammed; this alone could explain the difference in treatment of both representations by C4, without having to resort to third party opinions.

    (note: I'm just providing a possible explanation, not the explanation, certainly not a justification, and definitely not a statement about my own opinion on the issue).

  11. Bob  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:25 am

    Albert – nice try at balance, but it's nothing to do with that, as the British media will routinely ridicule Christianity, and do and say things which are blasphemous and insulting to the religion's teachings. I am not a religious person, but I can imagine it wouldn't be too hard to find a sensitive soul who could work up some "offense" at the way in which Christianity is portrayed. The European media don't touch Islam, they go nowhere near it, because of fear.

  12. Ophelia Benson  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:29 am

    I don't think Bob's comment has much relevance to this particular piece of idiocy. I don't think the boffins at Channel 4 were afraid one or more of them would be attacked if the cartoon appeared. I don't think that's what's going on here.

  13. Bob  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:32 am

    Ophelia – what do you think was going on?

    You don't think the fact that the publishers of the Danish cartoons, and other media outlets that distributed them, received threats had anything to do with the editorial decisions at Channel 4?

  14. mcinsand  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:43 am

    If the British media is like the US media, then I think that Ophelia is onto something. I think the intent was to inflame two sides at once by showing the semicensored drawing. Some Muslims will be offended at the thought of drawing Mohammed and some Christians will be offendied by what seems to be special treatment deference to another religion. With the double-pronged sensationalism, more agitated viewers come in, and the channel can charge more for the commercial time.

  15. ZarroTsu  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:45 am

    I have a pretty good idea for a debate in regards to this, and I'd like to bring it to Channel 4's attention. The debate is as follows:

    ██████████████████████████████████████████████████ ██████████████████████████████████████████████████ ██████████████████████

    █████████████████████████████████

    ██████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████

    Anyone else agree?

  16. Cassius  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:45 am

    I wish Monty Python would make "Life of Ibrahim" about a guy born on the same day as, and next door to, Mohammed.

  17. the other alan  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:46 am

    @James – such a warning would miss the point. Muslims aren't [only] offended when they see a depiction of Mohammed – they are offended when such a depiction is shown to anyone, which is really what makes this particular 'that's offensive to me' complaint worse than most.

  18. Tarrou  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:49 am

    The Broadway play "The Book of Mormon" has been on for years, with little controversy, even though it's an eviscerating take by the South Park lads on one religion. But when the SP guys included a fake imposter Mohammed in a skit about how you couldn't show Mohammed, they promptly removed it.

    I'm all for criticizing religion, but anyone who tries to make artistic hay criticizing anything but Islam while being lauded for their "courage" is a fucking fraud.

    They don't get it. If enough people do it, they can't kill us all. And the sooner we drive home the point that their censorship doesn't work, the sooner both we and they can get over this slavish and craven idiocy of allowing third-world theocrats to dictate how free our speech is.

    If only journalists had one millionth the spine they think they do.

  19. Ed  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:55 am

    The asymmetry is more easily explained this way:
    - If you offend Christians, people may get offended.
    - If you offend Muslims, people may get killed.

    See the difference?

    Maybe Christians need to start offing some reporters and atheists and they may get some deference, too.

  20. beingmarkh  •  Jan 29, 2014 @11:21 am

    "Channel 4 has pretended to cover a debate, but has actually presumed the validity of the arguments by one side of that debate."

    I take this post's point, obviously, but from a purely rhetorical perspective, by either showing all of the image or not it still would have presumed the validity of the arguments of one side of the debate.

  21. Colin  •  Jan 29, 2014 @11:24 am

    Censoring the cartoon did not affect the news value of the piece, or the validity of any arguments in it. It is not the precise nature of the hidden lines that is at issue – any depiction of Mohammad in this manner would be offensive.

    Also, talk of violence is a red herring. Even if there had never been any threats ever, some Muslims would still find the cartoon offensive, and news organisations would be having the same debate. Given that many news outlets routinely censor nudity, violence and bad language, censoring is hardly an Islam-only issue.

    Consider a different example. Australian media sometimes censors the name and/or image of a dead Aboriginal person when reporting the death, and will only say the name or show a photo with the permission of the deceased's family. This is done to respect Aboriginal customs and traditions. Is this censoring acceptable? Or do you feel it deserves a similar level of ridicule?

  22. Carl  •  Jan 29, 2014 @11:25 am

    @Cassius: Ironically, the Pythons themselves have said that they almost certainly couldn't get Life of Brian made today. Long gone are the days when not only could Python make Life of Brian, but Not The Nine O'Clock News could then do a sketch making fun of people offended by Life of Brian ("John Cleese died for us — several times. The sketches weren't always funny.")

  23. Sheriff Fathead  •  Jan 29, 2014 @11:28 am

    @Ed: the difference is probably more "if you offend Muslims, you may come across as racist"; in Britain at least, "Muslim" is a common code-word for "brown people" among bigots.

    Similarly, anti-Catholicism was a convenient cover for anti-Irish prejudice in living memory (and still is in some parts).

  24. granny weatherwax  •  Jan 29, 2014 @12:11 pm

    @ Cassius

    He's not Mohammed, he's a very naughty boy.

  25. Ophelia Benson  •  Jan 29, 2014 @12:29 pm

    Bob, no, I don't think "the fact that the publishers of the Danish cartoons, and other media outlets that distributed them, received threats had anything to do with the editorial decisions at Channel 4." That's for several reasons. That was a few years ago, for one thing, and Channel 4 wouldn't be first in line for threats in this case, for another.

    I'm not a novice to the whole subject. I got some second-level "threats" myself a few years ago – or rather, warnings about the potential for threats, on publication of a book I co-wrote, Does God Hate Women? The warnings were taken seriously enough by the publisher to pause and consult with an "ecumenical" expert – who, fortunately, said we should go ahead, and we did.

    The irony is, no threats whatsoever came from any Angry Muslims. The warnings came from a journalist who thought there might be threats.

    It's possible that the people at Channel 4 are as jumpy as that, but I really don't think it's likely.

  26. bjh21  •  Jan 29, 2014 @12:34 pm

    J&M itself has responded, brilliantly.

  27. Ophelia Benson  •  Jan 29, 2014 @12:34 pm

    It is not the precise nature of the hidden lines that is at issue – any depiction of Mohammad in this manner would be offensive.

    Would be if what? Offensive to whom?

    It's not offensive to Maajid Nawaz. Why do we have to agree that it just Would Be offensive to other people and that their offense should trump his non-offense?

  28. Marconi Darwin  •  Jan 29, 2014 @12:39 pm

    This is sorta like CNN having a panel discussion trying to figure out "Is cracker as offensive as the n-word" and not one panelist asking "what's the n-word?"

  29. Dion starfire  •  Jan 29, 2014 @1:09 pm

    You know, I can totally picture Ken arguing for the idiots writing death threats over depictions of mohammed, as a free speech issue. This is just one of the prices we pay for that dichotomoy of the law saying "he's not serious" and the recipient (of such a letter) thinking "they're gonna bomb my house".

    Oh, and thanks for getting me hooked on yet another webcomic. There goes my week (got to get caught up).

  30. Mercury  •  Jan 29, 2014 @2:30 pm

    Is "Mo" really that short?

  31. Anonymous Coward  •  Jan 29, 2014 @2:55 pm

    If they weren't going to have the backbone to show the drawing, they shouldn't have used any picture at all.

  32. Colin  •  Jan 29, 2014 @2:58 pm

    @Ophelia Benson: Would be if what? Offensive to whom?

    That's easy: offensive to those who say it's offensive.

    But I don't think this is a case of comparing the right to offend vs not be offended. This isn't about the right of the cartoonist to publish his cartoons – prohibiting that would be a much more serious issue. This is simply about Channel 4 reporting on this issue. Their limited censoring allows those who would be offended to avoid offense, yet still permits you and I to visit the website and read the cartoons in full.

    A candidate standing for election is held to a higher standard. Whether this standard should permit tweeting cartoons thought offensive by a portion of his electorate is certainly worth debating. But I don't feel that Channel 4's censoring devalued or limited that debate.

  33. Joel  •  Jan 29, 2014 @3:21 pm

    I doubt it, Dion. Threats are only protected speech when there's no way a reasonable person would believe them to be true. A high-profile Twitter post from someone who has long established themselves to be a shit-talker would probably not count as a legitimate threat. A letter to a news organization, threatening harm for something they showed, (particularly for a situation where threats have been followed through on in the past), is completely believable as a legitimate threat.

  34. Roscoe  •  Jan 29, 2014 @3:35 pm

    I am just happy to see someone us the phrase "beg the question" properly, and not just as an alternative to "raise the question."

  35. Mike Flynn  •  Jan 29, 2014 @3:50 pm

    I would just like to offer my contgratulations (and personal gratitude) in noting that you are perhaps the only person on the Internetz (other than on web sites for logicians and debaters) who correctly used the phrase "begs the question". THANK YOU!!!!

  36. Joel  •  Jan 29, 2014 @3:59 pm

    Yeah, when Ken wrote "beg the question" then proceeded to talk about the actual fallacy I got weirdly excited (well, weird to an outside observer–I've long since come to terms with my unnatural passion for rhetoric). I've gotten so use to people conflating the term that I don't really expect to it used correctly anymore.

  37. Aaron  •  Jan 29, 2014 @4:14 pm

    In before Ken points out how Popehattian the conversation turning to the correct use of "begs the question" is.

  38. Drewski  •  Jan 29, 2014 @4:21 pm

    Seems a bit ironic that you'd use a 4chanism to open that reply.

  39. barry  •  Jan 29, 2014 @4:41 pm

    Often on TV when someone 'flips the bird', the hand gets pixelated, but the overall event gets covered. One finger can offend some powerful forces too.
    I think pixelating part of the cartoon would have been less ambiguous, so nobody could think Mohammad was being drawn as a black ellipse.
    It might be an optical illusion, but if you stare at the black ellipse for about 20 seconds, a smiley face appears.

  40. Jacob H  •  Jan 29, 2014 @5:04 pm

    @Ken
    It is always a nice surprise to see a correct usage of "begging the question"! Kudos

    @Zarro
    That would have been a lot funnier if you had actually put text under there

    @barry
    You also have to repeat the word "Mohommad" three times

  41. Sami  •  Jan 29, 2014 @5:25 pm

    That… huh.

    See, to a certain extent, showing it uncensored would suggest a presumption of validity of the opposite argument. Possibly putting it behind a cut/"some viewers might find this offensive" warning is the middle ground.

    Alternatively, you could look at it another way: depictions of the prophet Mohammed are considered offensive by a number of Muslims, including ones who overall aren't extremist. In much the same way as, for example, I don't think anyone could reasonably call me any kind of Christian extremist, but I found an American Tea Party activist who smugly displayed the crucifix she kept in a revolver holster *extremely* offensive.

    (I find the "piss Christ" to be largely very, very stupid. I'm somewhat offended on artistic grounds, though.)

    Accordingly, while I have no problem with Jesus and Mo – I'm only an intermittent reader, but I have browsed the archives – I would argue that while it's on its own website that Muslims can avoid going to, dropping it into a news piece would actually not be okay.

    Whether depictions of Mohammed are offensive is not in question. It offends a number of Muslims; it is offensive. Do they get the right to prevent other people from creating such depictions? No. However, it's only polite to avoid throwing it in their faces when you don't have to.

    As a comparison: I personally find pornographic pictures of women to be offensive. I really, truly do not want to see it. If there was a news article discussing the offensiveness of something considered pornographic, I would be offended if uncensored pornographic pictures of women were included, and I don't think they'd be necessary to have the discussion.

    I think this is a case more of being polite than of censorship. Doing something you know to be offensive to someone is sometimes necessary, but doing so in the absence of necessity is kind of a dick move.

  42. Dicrostonyx  •  Jan 29, 2014 @5:37 pm

    British comedian Jimmy Carr makes does a lot of "Christian-baiting" jokes in his live shows, but his single Muslim joke does a pretty good job of illustrating the public perception of the difference between making fun of the two religions:

    "I've got a Muslim friend who's really religious, he knows the Koran backwards; which is handy, because that's the way you read it. A surprisingly well informed and inoffensive joke about the Islamic faith, and that's because I'm not a fucking idiot. What are the Christians going to do, forgive me?"

    Ken, Certainly I do agree with you in theory, good journalists should be willing to step outside of the controversy and not give in to perceived public pressure, but theory only gets you so far in the real world. Channel 4 is not BBC World News; their top programs are Big Brother and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. Quality of news is not exactly the channel's big selling point to begin with.

  43. G. Filotto  •  Jan 29, 2014 @6:43 pm

    Exactly right. First reply too. Well done sir. As usual, violence wins!

  44. Josh C  •  Jan 29, 2014 @6:46 pm

    A quick advocacy for the devil:
    This is the only correct way to open that debate. There is, so far as I know, no-one who is offended by failure to depict Mohammed, so showing him will offend some people, and blanking him will offend no-one (except culture warriors' meta-offense).

  45. G. Filotto  •  Jan 29, 2014 @6:46 pm

    That just shows you're out of touch with reality dear. Fear of violence is the sole and overriding reason here. Nothing else.

  46. G. Filotto  •  Jan 29, 2014 @6:50 pm

    You win the comments for my money!

  47. sinij  •  Jan 29, 2014 @6:51 pm

    I am a fundamental pastafarian, any depiction of pasta, meatballs, or strainers is deeply offensive to me. Anyone caught doing it will be subject of Pastafad and from there it is an open season.

    We know where you buy your pasta!

  48. G. Filotto  •  Jan 29, 2014 @6:54 pm

    So your point is the threat of violence definitely didn't play a role here even though it did (in the mind of journalists) for your book? Uhh… Logic much?

  49. rsteinmetz70112  •  Jan 29, 2014 @7:12 pm

    Jesus and Mo by its very name begs the question.

  50. rsteinmetz70112  •  Jan 29, 2014 @7:25 pm

    As for asymmetry, I regularly see American commenters say "Islam is a religion of peace" I seldom hear them say "Christianity is a religion of peace" when discussing the US Christian Militias or Patriot nuts. When some wing nut wants to burn the Koran howls go up about insensitivity, which it is, but in the US it's US protected speech.

  51. rsteinmetz70112  •  Jan 29, 2014 @7:38 pm

    From the J&M Comments

    "Has everyone forgotten the first J&M strip? In it the character called Mo indicates that he is a body double of the Prophet Mohammed."

  52. Deathpony  •  Jan 29, 2014 @8:22 pm

    @Tarrou

    Have you seen the episode in question?

    The SP guys emphatically did not agree to an actual representation of Mohammed being removed at the end of the episode, as you seem to be suggesting. The original episode as created had a representation of a Mohammed character in the last scene. The scene was replaced by a black card reading "Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Mohammed on their network" when the network made a late decision not to allow it.

    The SP guys even introduced a speech from Kyle adressing the fictional Fox Network executive "Doug", with an empassioned plea as to why they should be able to show an image of Mohammed and how censorship was asymmetrically applied to Islam v Christianity and how this was wrong.

    The Comedy Channel executive responsible for the decision not to broacast the episode as originally created was Doug Herzog.

    TCC rationale was ""In light of recent world events, we feel we made the right decision.", as ths came in the immediate aftermath of the Jyllands/Posten controversy. Similar mealy mouthed words to the latest example.

    The SP guys have many faults, but not sure you got the right end of the stick on this one. The "Cartoon Wars" double was in fact a fairly eloquent discussion of this whole issue and a call for free speech, done in their own way.

    The ultimate irony of course was that they had already broadcast a "Mohammed" character in the episode "Super best Friends" some years prior an noone batted an eyelid. The Mohammed character had appeared in the opening credits for years afterwards, as part of the usual mash up of scenes from previous episodes; including in the opening credits for the very episode in which The Comedy Channel refused to allow the final scene with Mohammed…which adds more eloquent testimony as to the whole stupidity and wrongheadedness of the decision to censor than anything else.

  53. Jeff  •  Jan 29, 2014 @8:34 pm

    You know, as a Muslim revert who believes firmly in non-censorship, I find the censored version far more offensive than the original. Accommodation based on fear of extremists is never the right call.

    There are strong cultural conventions why most Muslims shun images of the Prophet, that are actually similar to why we have the image of Jesus we have: nobody has a flippin' clue what either man really looked like! Imagination and creative interpretation of religious figures is disapproved of in many religions. Too many Muslims in recent decades have fallen victim to manipulation by political leaders or would-be leaders who whip up violent mobs at every opportunity. That phenomenon is by no means unique to Muslims (cf. "settlers"/colonists, Crusaders, Zealots), but it's the one people are told by the corporatist media to pay attention to. The point is the same as it would have been for a conservative Christian of the early Middle Ages: we have no idea what this man looked like; we know we don't know; and to pretend otherwise can reasonably be seen as disrespectful.

    How would people (especially, say, the Teapublican cluckers) take to some future artist, having no visual record of the early 21st century, very few textual records (after a great civil disturbance wreaked havoc), and a deadline to meet, painted Barack Obama as a particularly unique white man with blue eyes? The Obamas would laugh it off, but the TPs would go look for somebody to lynch, and eventually decide they'd found him.

    We all need to step back, take a deep breath, and chill, people!

  54. melK  •  Jan 30, 2014 @1:56 am

    From the viewpoint of "let's have a discussion about this issue", I think they did a right thing…

    People who would be offended and "take their viewpoint and leave" would not contribute to the discussion.

    People who would stay simply to spew vituperation at the channel would not contribute to the discussion.

    My impression is that the number of people who would both be offended AND be willing to stay might be low.

    … and you can always show an "uncensored" version later if you wish.

    And if you're not doing this for the sake of discussing the issue, then are you doing it to show what a clever lad you are and "those rules don't apply to us"? I mean, I'm fine if that's what you want to do and all. After all, I post on blogs on Sunday, and that's work, isn't it?

  55. MickS  •  Jan 30, 2014 @3:52 am

    @Dicrostonyx

    On the contrary Channel 4 News is well respected and an important part of its programming.

    As well as the sensationalist Big Brother (which has moved to Channel 5) and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings (which was a view on current Gypsy culture within the UK) they do produce some good documentary programming and produce UK films.

    @Richard Gadsen

    I believe that Channel 4 still receives some money from the TV License fee as well as an obligation to provide an amount of public service programming.

    On the debate itself its typical media self-censorship. It goes on the whole use of 'alleged' in reports on arrests regardless of the facts of the case. Its as much to guard against legal action as anything else.

  56. Christoph  •  Jan 30, 2014 @4:28 am

    I'm always amazed by the asymmetry of religious sensitivity with regard to Islam and Christianity in some circles.

    Well, if you're hauling off the central figure of one for a mock trial, torture and execution, you might get your ear chopped off in the process. If you tried that with the other, you'll get your head chopped off.

  57. yaya  •  Jan 30, 2014 @4:35 am

    When you critique a culture not your own you honestly have no idea what you're doing. Your "rationality" isn't universal. people think, feel and react to culturally specific things. You can critique your own culture and for the British, that's Christianity. When you start critiquing a foreign culture, that's something different, close to ethnocentric racism. You will only cause problems when your own norms are applied in a foreign landscape. How many Muslims were consulted on the cartoon? Who wrote it? Channel 4 did the right thing, they acted with prudence and dignity and kept up a level of respect. Is it that hard as a Christian or atheist whatever viewer to miss out on seeing the cartoon version of Mo ? Everyone has something culturally imbued at which you will recoil and take grave offense : tabboos. Day to day you are thankful for people respecting yours, even if not consciously so. Don't think for your culturally specific principle, just don't draw a picture of Mo. Its easy, its nothing.

  58. Tarrou  •  Jan 30, 2014 @7:07 am

    @ Deathpony,

    I am quite aware it wasn't Matt and Trey who censored and pulled the episode. That's my point. They are equal-opportunity offenders, but they got overruled when it came to the most benign depictions of Islam. They've skewered scientology, mormons, liberals (Let go, Let Gov.) and just about everyone in the past. They lost Hayes over their depiction of scientology. But a reference of islam in a show about overhyped religious sensitivity? Too much.

    I give the creators a lot of credit. I excoriate the media too craven to allow it to be shown. It is rarely the people whose necks are actually on the line who cave. I am reminded of the Rushdie affair when major bookstores declined to carry "The Satanic Verses". The workers in the stores signed a statement saying they sold books, and anyone who had a problem could take it up with them. Their bosses, far removed and with all the security their multi-billions could buy, folded like a cheap box to the threats of a hectoring drag queen from Iran.

    They do not fear their underlings being killed, they fear being labelled as "racist". There are many reasons why this is ridiculous and despicable, but mostly it is an ideological alliance between the "right-thinking" rich and powerful and the most vile, violent and backward element of the muslim world.

  59. David  •  Jan 30, 2014 @10:04 am

    yaya: "Don't think for your culturally specific principle, just don't draw a picture of Mo. Its easy, its nothing."

    Trouble is, my "culturally specific principle" is that people who identify with one culture may not dictate the behaviour of people from another culture. For that matter, when it comes to lawful expressions of opinion, people may not dictate the behaviour of others, regardless of the cultural positions that either of them may hold.

    Oddly enough, the first part of this, at least, appears to be your "culturally specific principle" too, or else you wouldn't be complaining about the fact that Muslim sensibilities aren't being properly respected here.

    But this "culturally specific principle" obviously clashes with the assertion that people from all cultural and religious backgrounds are obliged to follow the behavioural code of one specific religion — namely, in this case, the Muslim dictate not to draw pictures of Mohammed.

  60. Dion starfire  •  Jan 30, 2014 @1:43 pm

    That's an excellent point, Josh. There's a big difference between being offended by an image and being outraged by censorship. All too often the two get conflated as being identical. It's like men vs. women, black vs. white, a pair of fives vs a ten dollar bill – equal but not identical.

    However, there is an offense at the abstract level in the idea that a non-muslim in a non-islamic country should be subject to Islamic rules.

  61. Tim  •  Jan 30, 2014 @2:24 pm

    Ken, for info the BBC covered it on Newsnight on the 29th Jan (main political nightly discussion programme BBC2 10:30pm in the UK) and did not depict the cartoon but instead showed the cartoonist start to draw a cartoon without actually showing the relevant image – i.e. just a slightly subtler version of the C4 approach.

  62. Christopher  •  Jan 30, 2014 @10:16 pm

    As a comparison: I personally find pornographic pictures of women to be offensive. I really, truly do not want to see it. If there was a news article discussing the offensiveness of something considered pornographic, I would be offended if uncensored pornographic pictures of women were included, and I don't think they'd be necessary to have the discussion.

    I think this is a case more of being polite than of censorship. Doing something you know to be offensive to someone is sometimes necessary, but doing so in the absence of necessity is kind of a dick move.

    I totally agree with everything you said but the bolded part. I think politeness, taste and decorum can be good things; they involve you putting conscious thought into what you are saying and doing, and how it would effect other people. Both of these are admirable goals.

    Of course, using the threat of violence to enforce your sense of decorum on other people is evil.

    So I'm more sympathetic to Channel 4 than Ken is.

    That said, though, I think the part I bolded is where we disagree. In almost every case, if you're doing a news story on a thing, you do have to actually say what that thing actually is. Otherwise this is your story:

    "A thing happened today. We can't tell you what it was, but certain people said that the thing was insulting, bigoted, and pornographic. Other people disagreed, saying the thing has many merits."

    At best, that story imparts no information and accomplishes nothing. At worst, it inflames people's passions based not on knowledge, but on speculation and ignorance.

    When you decide to censor the news like that, there's really no upside, and potentially a large downside, and so I think the news media should be less concerned about decorum than the rest of us.

  63. Careless  •  Jan 30, 2014 @11:41 pm

    Absurd, Jeff. Republicans would probably find innocently depicting Obama as white hilarious. And it's complete BS to say that there's a general sense we shouldn't depict people we have no way of knowing the looks of. The people going around blowing up Buddha statues aren't Buddhists. No one cares what specifically Jesus looks like when drawn except to argue "that's too European!"

    Muslims care about Muhammad because they're applying a rule most thinks applies to them to non-Muslims. Censoring his image is little different from censoring the consumption of alcohol

  64. Albert  •  Jan 31, 2014 @12:13 am

    Tim: Ken, for info the BBC covered it on Newsnight on the 29th Jan (main political nightly discussion programme BBC2 10:30pm in the UK) and did not depict the cartoon but instead showed the cartoonist start to draw a cartoon without actually showing the relevant image – i.e. just a slightly subtler version of the C4 approach.

    I can understand criticizing the act of showing the cartoon but censoring part of it. But here, the part which I put in bold type criticizes the act of not showing the cartoon at all, as if the journalists had a duty to show the cartoon. One could just as well assume they considered that showing the cartoon was unnecessary if it was described accurately enough.

  65. Dustin  •  Feb 2, 2014 @8:12 am

    "namely, in this case, the Muslim dictate not to draw pictures of Mohammed."

    With all due respect, no one elected you or anyone else decider of what is true Islam. There are Muslims who depict Muhammed, after all. The extreme reaction to that sort of thing is, of course, the reaction of extremists. There are five pillars of Islam and none of them have anything to do with cartoons or censorship.

    It would be just as fair to say it's a Christian dictate to protest funerals of American soldiers just because some extremists from Westboro do so. If CNN censored such a funeral citing this offense it would be bowing to extremism as well as ridiculous.

    The aspect of this issue that bothers me the most is how many in the mainstream media tend to listen to those they are most afraid of, in a way that defines Islam to the detriment of moderate Muslims who certainly aren't going to lose their minds over a cartoon. Let's not pretend there is any other reason for the censorship but fear, which sadly is a mechanism of making censorship work.

  66. Xenocles  •  Feb 2, 2014 @12:10 pm

    "When you start critiquing a foreign culture, that's something different, close to ethnocentric racism."

    I personally think Charles Napier had the best response to this sentiment when he faced it in India.

  67. Tim  •  Feb 2, 2014 @8:31 pm

    I never disagree with Ken but I think I disagree with Ken? Declining to show the full image is a simple extension of courtesy that materially infringes exactly nobody's rights. This courtesy did not impair the channel's ability to present an informed and complete segment on the cartoon or the response to it. Where's the beef?

  68. Dustin  •  Feb 2, 2014 @10:47 pm

    I don't think news stations tend to censor a lot of material out of mere courtesy these days, Tim. I can't recall that happening in many other contexts. They censor material if it's obscene, sure, often because the law requires it or to be professional, and in this case I believe they censor because they are afraid of an extremist reprisal.

    I think the cartoon was the story, and that it was probably not very offensive, to the point where seeing how harmless it is would convey an important part of the story.

    I don't think this is a discussion of whether the news program has the right to censor this speech. Of course they have that right.

    Every gay wedding is offensive to certain religions. These days we expect those offended to be tolerant and respectful, and those who have successfully adapted to a world where gay marriages are becoming more normalized are doing themselves and society a favor. I could bore you will many other examples of arguments, stories, and images that offend people. I've met folks who would be displeased with the innocent cartoon of Jesus shown above. The rule of 'don't offend people' can't be applied across the board.

    If the rule is that the station is avoiding offending a group that has threatened violence in reprisal for its offense, but everyone else can be expected to tolerate speech they don't like, I think that's a really short sighted way of handling a serious problem.

    And again I find it really unfortunate that Islam is defined by the views of the extremists.

  69. Matt Raft  •  Feb 5, 2014 @11:40 am

    For Americans, it's important to consider the context of the situation. Millions of low-skilled, low-wage Muslims are invited to Europe to do work the natives dislike doing. They do the work, have kids, and some become Zinedine Yazid Zidane, while others languish. The ones who languish are, in many cases, segregated, male, and unemployed.

    For whatever reason, it is difficult for some European immigrant families to establish upward mobility in the same way as some American immigrant families. Chalk it up to the more nepotistic government sector being a larger sector of the European economy, fewer major corporations or entrepreneurs looking for hard workers, etc. In any case, we know we have a marginalized minority population.

    European governments have tried to provide more opportunities. Like the War on Poverty in America, one expects a very long, frustrating fight. Bottom line: minorities in Europe can't do much about their job prospects, and in many cases, are openly shunned by mainstream Europeans, both educated and uneducated. They can, once in a while, protest a cartoon, though. They can protest and riot just like minority Americans did after the Rodney King verdict. They can protest violently just like some unemployed Americans did during Occupy Wall Street. They can try to impose their misguided, extreme beliefs on others like the the Westboro Baptist Church, or the Americans who deface and set fire to mosques across America, or the American who shot a temple in Wisconsin. Unlike most of these aforementioned Americans, however, we are quick to label the origins of the protests as religious-based rather than something more plausible and common across the world–a bunch of unemployed, marginalized men with too much time on their hands has never once, in the history of mankind, been auspicious.

1 Trackback