When the Muslim prophet Muhammad was depicted in a set of cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, riots broke out all over the Middle East. Both the newspaper and the Danish Prime Minister himself have publicly apologized, but in vain. What had started out as experimentation with freedom of the press quickly dissolved into mayhem. In the shadow of mass hysteria, with embassies lying in ruins, officers lying in hospitals and protesters lying in graves, it is obvious that no immediate remedy will solve the crisis that ensued.
The mission of a newspaper is to inform and examine and in publishing these cartoons, despite being offensive, Jyllands Posten acted on the liberty it had, the liberty given to the presses of all democracies. Jyllands Posten, and all newspapers, are free to write what they want, how they want and when they want – but at the same time, must be willing to accept all the consequences.
The press, no matter how small it may seem, has a giant impact on the surrounding community. In this instance, Jyllands Posten forgot their place. They forgot that they are publishing an international newspaper, to a community that is sensitive to this kind of material. Though they have freedom of the press, they must realize that with great power comes great responsibility. The newspaper broke the fine balance between being able to do something and knowing when not to do it.
The press is undeniably a powerful tool. In the last year alone, the press has exposed a multitude of government scandals, fought for protection of sources and served admirably during several natural disasters as well as during the War in Iraq. The institution we so heavily relied upon, though, is suddenly a bastion of hate. What should only have been mildly controversial erupted into something awful.
At the Campus Times we have worked hard to realize our place in the community, and understand that what we write will have an impact. Week in and week out, we at the CT work tirelessly to do our best. If we print something disagreeable then it is the reader’s place to respond by writing in. But it takes effort on both ends if freedom is to mean anything at all.