Ethics 2012: Case Study #3

Case Study #3: Offensive Images

WHAT: The situation. Caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad didn’t cause much of a stir when they were first published in September 2005. But when they were republished in early 2006, after Muslim leaders called attention to the 12 images, it set off rioting throughout the Islamic world. Embassies were burned; people were killed.

The cartoons originated with a conservative Danish daily newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. After learning that the author of a children’s book on Muhammad couldn’t find an illustrator who wasn’t afraid of retribution, the newspaper sponsored a contest soliciting depictions of the prophet.
It was time to stop being cowed by Islamist fundamentalists, the Danes said; time to confront European media’s timid self-censorship. If we don’t, as the saying goes, the terrorists will have won.

After the rioting and killing started, it was difficult to ignore the cartoons. Some media elected merely to describe the cartoons, not to print them. Yet every time a major protest broke out, the more likely it was that the cartoons would be published. The violent reaction made it difficult for news media in the Western world not to show their audiences what all the fuss was about. Predictably, perhaps, each publication set off a new wave of protests.

Question: Do we publish the cartoons or not?

WHO: The principals. The decision-maker, in this case, most likely would be at least at the managing editor level at a newspaper; perhaps the news director at a television station.

The stakeholders include the local Islamic community, Muslims around the world, people at sites that might be targeted by riots, your newspaper or TV station and its reputation for truth-telling and fairness, and readers and viewers — who have an interest in seeing what is driving such outrage. You may be able to think of others whose interest in the outcome of your decision should be considered.

WHAT: There are several principles at issue here. Is it freedom of expression? Or is it unnecessary provocation? Is there an acceptable middle ground between showing the blunt truth and minimizing the harm of insult?
Some critics said Western media trivialized the cause and exaggerated the reaction. Only a few thousand of the billion or so Muslims worldwide rioted. And this was only the latest manifestation of a long history of bullying, humiliation and marginalization of Muslims by Europe and the United States.

Or did the manipulation come from the Islamist side? Things were comparatively calm until a few leaders decided to use the cartoons to provoke cultural differences between Islam and non-believers. Some say it’s blasphemy to depict any image of Muhammad, although Islamic scholars disagree on whether that’s the right interpretation.

It could be argued that deciding not to publish the cartoons is not cowardly self-censorship but considered good judgment. After all, they were readily available on the Internet. A responsible journalist’s intent should be to inform, not to offend.

There are several options for you, the media outlet. You could publish all 12 cartoons on the front page, or show them in connection with riot scenes on your newscast. That’s rather extreme. At the other extreme, you could simply describe one or two of them. Many newspapers and broadcasters made reference to one picture of Muhammad wearing a bomb in his turban. Or you could provide a link to a website where they could be viewed.

HOW: Whatever you decide, it’s important to have a serious discussion and a good reason for your decision. It shouldn’t be simply reacting to a dare with a taunt. And you should consider explaining your rationale to your readers and viewers.

12 comments on “Ethics 2012: Case Study #3
  1. Ethics #3
    Lauren’s Respnse

    LIke I said in the second ethics response, I believe that it is okay to release the photos, but to a certain extent. This depends on your public, the place you reside, and your reputation. Obviously, there is always going to be someone who finds any image offensive, but if you are in a part of the world where most no one cares, it would be pointless to release a big story.

    If you are close to where the action is happening, this is where the topic would get touchy. I believe if you are in this kind of situation, you have to consider your reputation. Releasing a small story with the information the public needs to know, without blasting it out of proportion.

    The ultimate decision has to be made whether how much flak you want to get from the public, and if your reputation could be hurt. No matter what your decision is, you have to stand behind it and not make excuses. In my opinion, this may cause a stir now, but eventually there will be another story that overtakes the latest one, and it will become blended in with the week’s happenings.

    I do believe it is okay to release the pictures for the benefit of your public, so they know what is happening. You do not necessarily have to release the photos. Most people will get curious and find them on their own.

  2. Kate Hagans says:

    Kate Hagans

    In this third case study, it shows strong emotion through pictures, not words. There is nothing stopping the newspaper from printing the cartoons, but is it right? As I recall by drawing a cartoon, it is suppose to send a message to the viewer. In these cartoons, it is sending a negative message to its’ viewers. I believe we should keep cartoons conservative. When drawing a cartoon this is room to bend the rules a bit but when it comes to rioting and killing, it becomes too violent to publish in a conservative newspaper. You can’t just think to yourself no ones going to pay attention to it, because if it’s a picture, it catches the readers attention. The stakeholders are the local Islamic community, any Muslims, the newspaper, the illustrator of the cartoon and the viewers. This could effect many people, and of course the illustrato. I would not publish any of the cartoons.

  3. Renee Horton says:

    I think that if he was okay about the first time this pictures were published then why won’t he be okay by them know. If you think of it, it is like those pictures could have be picnic and made it look like he had booms and stuff like that and really he did, so I can see why he got upset because they got published. By those photos get published it set of the Islamic people and people were killed because of it so would rather have those photos out so everyone can see them or have more people killed because of it. I don’t think that it is a good idea for them to get published because it is really hurting other Islamic people so I think that they shouldn’t because of what it could to the people that live there and to the person that was in those photos and it makes them look bad. But then again yes because the people should know whats going on there. Like I said that they might not be true because so people blow thing out of proportion. So why I said that is because people do bad things to other people, and people can go into like picnic and add booms and weapons to the pictures.

  4. Saulk says:

    All what has happened with the Muslims and what people have been saying so far isn't good. And if i as a reporter writing about what all has happened i wouldn't write about everything i see and the information i get, i would wait in tell i get all information i need to make a story and i would also wait because i could say something and the next day in could change. I would also not draw any cartoons telling a funny joke but also the truth because it can do many things. It could offend people and it would make things even worst then what they are and i know a reporter would not want nothing like that. Although people from the Mid south are known to be terrorist and when other people see them walking around or doing something they always think that they are going to try something and gets them thinking so they would all stair at them in tell they leave or don't see them anymore. Some might even think them same as other Muslims but they look the same so that's what makes people wonder about them.

    Saul Rivera

  5. My idea would be to go ahead and publish the photos, but I wouldn’t publish them in the newspaper. My idea would be to write a news story on the photos then including a link to a certain website with the photos published. That way it’s only exploiting the images to those who wish to view them. I would choose to do this to at least notify people of what is happening in the world. I do sort of feel there is a small amount of unnecessary provocation. I feel like they decided to republish the photos in a teasing manner. Instead of actually publishing them for a serious manner, they could have done it to make others mad. If I were put into the situation of deciding weather to republish all 12 of the photos, it would be a hard one to make. For some parts of the country I understand publication of the photos would be offensive or in some it would be known as a humorous manner. In reality there’s truly no way your going to be able to make everybody happy. Publishing the photos would have been the choice I would have made.

  6. If I had to make the choice whether or not to publish the cartoons I would have opted for no. It isn’t right to make fun of someone else's religion. What if it was Jesus or Mary in those pictures? I can tell you one thing, the western world would have been so upset they would have retaliated in close to the same ways more than likely. It would also be rude to upset the Muslim countries. I don’t see them trying to make our lives miserable, unless they kidnap you. If I had to report or mention it and I was a newscaster I would explain or mention what it was about, and vaguely explain the cartoons. I would then mention a link on the internet for the viewers. That way it wouldn’t seem like I was connected to it, only carrying out my job as a reporter. It said only a small percent of Muslims protested this. The rest of them probably understand that people are rude, and if they don’t share your beliefs they will be skeptical of your religion and how “just” it is. I don’t think I would publish it because I know that there is always someone you will offend, and it could get ugly fast.

  7. katieshow!:) says:

    Throughout history, there have been extremists in all religions. The Jewish have the Jewdas, Christians had the Ku Klux Klan, and the Muslims have al-Qaeda. These groups of people have purposely ridiculed, tortured, and killed thousands who have different beliefs or ways of life. Sure America was angry after the September 11th attack, but it isn't fair to blame the entire Muslim religion for what the al-Qaeda did. This is like condemning all Christianity for killing African Americans, despite the fact they were also Christian. Jesus taught us to love all people. It was never his intent to persecute those who didn't believe, and even though I am not sure, I would be willing to bet Muhammad didn't want that either.

    Tolerance of different religions and beliefs has always been difficult for humankind. However, humiliating others is not a step forward. There are two sides to religious war, neither is better, neither can win, but both have victims. It can guaranteed hatred for each other will be made worse with each passing day of fighting.

    Freedom of expression is important and being able to draw and publish whatever you want is a part of that. However, the fact that extremists are using these pictures to cause riots gives reason to stop the publication. The drawings are giving Islamic leaders reason to spread hatred for the United States and Christianity as a whole. We are giving the common Muslims a martyr to fight for, and by result creating more of a problem for ourselves. When the Constitution was drafted, it was implied respect would go along with freedom of religion. Shouldn't we at least try to extend that freedom and respect to other countries? After all, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

  8. Nikki says:

    I couldn't decide if I would publish the photos or not. I mean the photos were made to make fun of that person snd it could hurt their feelings. But then again they haven't been to nice to us. I got to thinking about your past and how we treated them. After awhile of think I decide that if I would one of them I would publish the photos. I think we should publish the cartoons. I mean if we do publish them we should know what we are getting ourselves into by doing so. The cartoons are freedom of expression and you can really do anything thing about that. Go ahead and publich all 12 photos and maybe explain a few of them so people can understand what is going on and why they chose these cartoons. I do believe its fine to publish the photos to get them out there for the world to see and if some people don't like them then who cares thats their opinion. The cartoons are there to make a serious matter a little funny and to make people stop when they see it because they are curious they want to know what it means and what is happening.

  9. Ashley Stull says:

    I believe we should publish a cartoon and explain on what’s going on. Than put the link on to the others. We have the right to the freedom of Speech and Press, but that doesn’t mean go and put all 12 cartoons on the front of the newspaper. It is raciest because not all Muslims are going to have a bomb strapped to them and going to blow up our planes, but the people do have the right to see what is going on in the world. So like I said before I would publish one to two cartoons and explain what is going on than have a link to the website so that they can see the rest of them. So that my paper only has direct contact with the ones I published.

  10. Darianne (: says:

    i wouldnt think that we would of had to publish the pictures. just because i think it would start unnesessary conflicts. some cartoonist take things way to far. but we could still explain whats going on, maybe not through pictures but through words. with internet use, anyone could of seen these photos. We do have the freedom of speech and press, but like i said, cartoonist take things way to far. its racist but then again, we show pictures of mexican with drugs and the border.some of them are hilarious especially the drawings cause they exaggerate them. make facial features funny. and im sure countries do that to us too. but you dont see us making a big deal out of it. and im sure that there are drawings out there. but it would be way to disrespectful to publish them. after 911 though i wouldnt think that we should get involved in something, that could possibly strike us again? description throughout words to me would of been different. showing maybe 1 photo wouldnt of been that bad. i would of found some humor to it. just cause i think everyone of the race looks the same. thats mean i know, but so true.

  11. Drake Wentz says:

    I would publish the cartoons. Ya i know that it might hurt some people but some people wouldnt know what we are talking about without some visual aide that will help them see the picture. People that is hurt by the cartoons dont have to worry because the cartoons are about everyone. Everyone has there feeling hurt every once in a while. I would publish the cartoons in the newspaper just because it has meaning to the story that goes with the picture. Yes cartoons can have a lot of meaning even though there are no words that are in the cartoons. Just like i said everyone gets in the cartoons. Some people the cartoons have more meaning then to others, think, what if you say a cartoon that you could relate to? How would you react at that time? I would look at the cartoon and figure out what i have in common with the cartoon then go from there. Blacks, Mexicans and White all get in the cartoons.

  12. Ace Rivera says:

    To an extent i believe it would be okay to publish cartoonist photos. Theses illustrated drawings of the Prophet Muhammad seemed to have caused riots and killings throughout the Islamic world. When innocent people’s lives are at risk there should be that thought in ones mind and consider the fact that no matter how harmless the cartoon drawings may seem to some viewers, other people might have a total misinterpretation of them. Offencive as they may seem in America we have the right which is freedom of speech weather or not people like it they may or may not be offend of what news media would post. I would’ve posted a couple pictures write a short story about them and have the rest of the cartoon drawings on the Web-site or have a link so people can search the drawings themselves simply just so it would cause any riots and stop the killing.