New Zealand newspapers publish "Mohammad Cartoons"

Saturday, February 4, 2006

Two New Zealand newspapers, Fairfax-owned The Dominion Post and The Christchurch Press, today controversially published all 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, which have triggered international outrage. Some of the cartoons were also broadcast on Television New Zealand's current affairs programme Close Up yesterday.

In September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten first published the cartoons. The images range from serious to comical in nature; a particularly controversial cartoon portrays Mohammad with a bomb wrapped in his turban.

The Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst says the decision today to publish the cartoons was in defense of press freedom and it is important for readers to make up their own minds.

"We do not wish to be deliberately provocative but neither should we allow ourselves to be intimidated...If we allow Christianity and more particularly the Catholic Church and the Pope to be satirised, and we do, should Islam be treated differently?"

Javed Khan, President of the New Zealand Federation of Islamic Associations, says he hopes it will not affect New Zealand's trade, but believes there could be "serious repercussions". "We won't call for a boycott, and we don't want to see one, but news gets around the world pretty quickly. Muslims will make their own decisions and as you know, they've taken drastic action against Denmark". He also said the government should take a stand against the cartoons.

Ethnic Affairs Minister Chris Carter has criticised the newspapers for publishing the cartoons, saying that it undermines New Zealand's reputation as a tolerant country. Prime Minister Helen Clark has condemned the actions of the newspapers and TVNZ, saying that the publishing of the cartoons was gratuitous and she could not see the point of it. She said that the issue was one of judgment, not freedom of speech, and she thought that neither publishing the cartoons nor the reaction to it will do anything to bring communities and faiths together.

Both co-leaders of the Māori Party have spoken out strongly against the decision to publish the cartoons. "It's one thing to promote freedom of the press and freedom of expression, but quite another to use those rights to justify the decision to insult religions and beliefs," said co-leader Pita Sharples.

In contrast, cartoonist Tom Scott said that the Islamic community needed to get a sense of humour. "[They] clearly have god on their side so they don't need cartoonists as well," he added. Scott faced a blasphemy prosecution in 1969 over an anti-Christian cartoon.

Some Muslim religious leaders have called for boycotts against countries that have published the cartoons, and many Danish companies have been targeted. Arla Foods, Denmark's top dairy company, has seen their sales fall to zero in some Middle East nations.

Logo of Fonterra

New Zealand's Fonterra Co-operative Group, the world's fifth largest dairy company, has run advertisements saying that the milk in its products do not come from Denmark.

New Zealand's embassies in the Middle East have been placed on high alert.

Update, February 5, 2006: Hundreds of people have marched down Auckland's Queen St to protest the publication of the cartoons. The march was organised by the Pakistan Association of New Zealand to let the public know about the hurt that Muslims have felt.