Student editors: Mainstream media wrong for not publishing Muhammad cartoons

College newspapers across the country are chiming in on therecent controversy surrounding the Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophetMuhammad. At least one student paper has reprinted the cartoons, while a fewothers have published their own editorial cartoons about thesituation.

Some student editors said large papers in the UnitedStates are doing their readers a disservice by choosing to avoid publishing thecartoons, which have incited riots and violence toward Danish and other Westernembassies in the Middle East and the Muslim world.

”Themainstream media will talk and talk about it, but very few have said, here arethe pictures, you decide,” said Aaron Mackey, editor in chief of theArizona Daily Wildcat. ”I thinkcollege papers have a little bit of a niche role and we’re definitelytrying to exercise our rights and provoke our society into debate anddialogue.”

The Arizona DailyWildcat, the student newspaper at the University ofArizona, did not reprint any of theDanish cartoons, but threw its hat into the debate by publishing an editorialcartoon of its own.

The cartoonshows a scene with Jesus, Buddha and other religious figures together withMuhammad, with Jesus saying to Muhammad, ”You really needa learn how totake a joke, Mohammed.”

The cartoonist, Abbey Golden, is astaff member of the paper and Mackey said the paper followed its usual editorialcartoon procedure: Golden came up with the idea, submitted it to her editors,and from there, the editors met and discussed the positive and negativerepercussions that could come with publishing thecartoon.

”It’s a sensitive [situation],” Mackeysaid. ”We feel it was right to provide a starting point to freeexpression, to be able to comment on a situation.

”Our mainpurpose with this comic was not to offend. It didn’t link Islam withterrorism. It had a definite point to it.”

The cartoon waspublished Tuesday and Mackey said that while some of the paper’s staffapplauded the decision to run the cartoon, not everyone agreed.

Acolumnist for the paper, Yusra Tekbali, disagreed with running the cartoon anddetailed her opinion in a columnpublished in the paper on Friday. Tekbali argued that having freedom of speechdoes not mean that the paper should publish material that it knows will offend alarge group of readers.

”When a paper encourages offensively depicting arevered religious individual, its reasons for doing so must be questioned;respect and sensitivity should outweigh absolute freedom of speech,”Tekbali wrote in her column.

Islam forbids any drawings or depictionsof God and his prophets, but Mackey said that non-Muslims should not be tied tothat restriction.

”I think dialogue is good and challengingthings is good,” he said. ”I think it’s a big mistake to saythat there are some things that are so sacred that you can’t talk aboutthem.”

At the University of Illinois, the editor in chief ofThe Daily Illini decided to run six ofthe original cartoons of Muhammad Thursday. It was a decision that Acton Gortonsaid he made when he saw that not many major media outlets were publishing thecartoons in their coverage about the controversy.

”A lot ofpeople were coming to me asking, ‘What’s going on?,”’ hesaid. ”Then you start to question, why isn’t the media running thisstuff?”

The New York Times,The Washington Post and The ChicagoTribune are just some of the major newspapers in the United States thathave decided not to publish the cartoons or depictions of Muhammad.

Gorton detailed his reasons for publishing the cartoons in a notefrom the editor that ran alongside the images.

”I think wereally have the right to publish these sorts of things,” Gorton said.”People should be allowed to make their own opinions about these things. Iwanted to give the public an opportunity to decide for themselves rather thannewspapers saying here’s what you should know.”

Thedecision elicited a variety of reactions on campus, Gortonsaid.

University Chancellor Richard Herman issued a statement sayingthat he was ”saddened” by the paper’s decision to publish thecartoons and argued that the paper did not need to print the pictures in orderto discuss them. He compared it to editorializing about pornography but notpublishing pornographic pictures in the paper.

But Gorton said youcannot compare the Danish cartoons withpornography.

”Pornographic pictures aren’t leading toembassies being seized and riots,” Gorton said. ”There are certainthings that images can do that words cannot do.”

The studentnewspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also published itsown editorialcartoon about the controversy. The cartoon, which was published Thursday inThe Daily Tar Heel, featured a drawingof the Muslim prophet inside a building with two windows. Visible through thewindow on the left was the Danish flag and Muhammad saying, ”They may getme from my bad side…,” and through the window on the right a scene ofrioting and violence is visible, with Muhammad finishing his sentence,”…but they show me from my worst.”

”I see[publishing the cartoon] as kind of central to the fundamental tenets ofjournalism,” Daily Tar HeelEditor in Chief Ryan Tuck said. ”Newspapers, and really, editorialcartoonists, have always been discussion sparkplugs. This cartoon filled itspurpose.”

Tuck said that while he understood that the cartoonmight be offensive to some, he did not apologize for its publication. There havebeen political cartoons that have mocked the Pope, Jesus and other traditions,religions and cultures, he said.

”I looked at the cartoonbefore it went to press, I saw the point,” Tuck said. ”We’re anewspaper fiercely committed to the idea of free expression anddebate.”

Response to the cartoon has been overwhelminglynegative, Tuck said. He estimated that about 95 percent of the feedback wasnegative and mostly from Muslim students.

”The majority havesaid this [cartoon] was wrong, it offended me and it was sensationalist,”Tuck said. ”I have also talked to colleagues who didn’t run [adepiction of Muhammad], but said it took a lot of guts and ‘goodjob.”’

These college newspapers have addressed asensitive issue that many student papers and the mainstream media chose to avoidor censor. But these college editors said debate, free expression and theexchange of ideas are more important than angry e-mails, upset phone calls,protests or political correctness.

”It’s a debate, wecan’t run from this,” Gorton said.

by Ricky Ribeiro SPLC staffwriter

Althoughadministrators at some colleges outside the United States have censored theirstudent newspapers for attempting to run the Danish cartoons, the Student PressLaw Center is not aware of a student newspaper in the United States that hasbeen censored as a result of a cartoon depicting the Muslim prophetMuhammad.

Do you know of a student newspaper that has run the Danishcartoons or their own cartoons editorializing on the issue? Let us know about itby e-mailing Ricky Ribeiro.