Scandinavians blast newspaper's apology


The Danish newspaper Politiken has apologized to a Saudi Arabian law firm acting on behalf of descendants of the prophet Mohammad for re-printing a Mohammad cartoon. The newspaper's action has been met with strong criticism from media and politicians. The Danish national daily Politiken complied with the request of the Saudi lawyer Faisal Yamani representing the directors of 8 organizations in Egypt, Libya, Qatar, Australia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Palestine. The groups represent 94,923 members, all descendents of Mohammed.

Politiken and Yamani crafted a settlement apologizing for the offense the Mohammed cartoons have caused. Politiken reprinted the cartoon drawing of the Prophet Mohammed created by Mr. Kurt Westergaard. The cartoon was originally published by the newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005 together with 11 other drawings of the Prophet Mohammed.

Politiken's Editor in Chief, Tøger Seidenfaden, made the apology public on Friday, February 26, and immediately was met with disbelief and accusations that the Danish newspaper had betrayed the principle of freedom of speech. Denmark’s prime and foreign ministers also expressed their concern at Politiken’s decision to apologize, and Danish media blasted Politiken's action.

Politiken has betrayed the battle for freedom of speech. They’ve given up and bowed to threats. That is, of course, disgraceful,” says Jyllands-Posten’s Editor-in-Chief Jørn Mikkelsen, who was the first newspaper to print the Mohammad cartoons.

Other Danish newspapers, such as Berlingske Tidende, Jyllands-Posten and Kristeligt Dagblad, received the same letter from the Saudi lawyer, but they have told Politiken that they have no interest in a settlement in which they apologize.

"It was never Politiken's intention to offend Muslims in Denmark or elsewhere with the reprinting of the Cartoon Drawing," Politiken said in a statement. "However, Politiken recognizes and deplores that our reprinting of the Cartoon Drawing of the Prophet Mohammed has offended Muslims in Denmark and in other countries around the world. We apologize to anyone who was offended by our decision to reprint the Cartoon Drawing.”

“The settlement looks ahead and expresses very sensible views. It may possibly reduce the tensions that have shown themselves to be so resilient. It gives us hope that relations between Denmark, and not least its media, and the Muslim world can be improved,” Chief Editor Seidenfaden says, adding he does not believe Politiken's move is a freedom-of-speech sellout.

Under the settlement, Politiken has not given up its right to publish the cartoons and does not apologize for having printed them, but rather for the affront felt by some Muslims. The agreement follows an initiative by the Saudi lawyer from August last year. Yamani approached a total of 11 Danish newspapers with demands that the cartoons be removed from internet pages, that media apologize, and that media promise not to re-print the cartoons in question, or similar cartoons, again.

“It’s crazy. The media carries offensive material every day. That is what freedom of speech is about,” says Social Democratic Leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Socialist People’s Party Leader Villy Søvndal says that “freedom of speech is not up for negotiation”.

The Danish People’s Party Leader Pia Kjærsgaard says she is ‘speechless’ in finding words to express how absurd the situation is.

“It is deeply, deeply embarrassing that Tøger Seidenfaden has sold out of Denmark’s and the West’s freedom of speech. I cannot distance myself enough from this total sell-out to this doctrine,” Kjærsgaard says.

In response to the apology, the Danish People's Party (DPP) posted the cartoon on their website. Cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who on January 1 was forced to barricade himself in a reinforced room after a 28-year-old Somali-born man broke into his home and threatened him, also said he was dismayed.

"Politiken is casting aside freedom of speech," he told the online edition of Jyllands-Posten. The head of the Danish Union of Journalists also criticized the settlement, saying Politiken had "caved in to those who oppose freedom of the press."

Newly-appointed Foreign Minister Lene Espersen (Cons) has reacted to Politiken’s decision to apologize for the effect of its publication of the Mohammed cartoon by saying that Danes have to stick together.

“The best thing that we can do now is to keep together as a nation and that newspapers stick together when they are met with threats,” Espersen says adding that the population is united in its stance against threats, and that the Foreign Ministry is closely following the effects of the apology abroad.

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen (Lib) also notes Politiken’s unilateral move in the context of threats of a lawsuit.

“Up to now I have been of the impression that the newspapers have stood shoulder to shoulder. If this is an expression of a change in that, I think it can be cause for concern,” the prime minister said.

“If this is a question of bowing to a threat in order to avoid a court case, I am also concerned,” the prime minister continued. “If this is an expression of breaking the unity that has existed among Danish newspapers and in Danish society, it is a matter of serious, serious concern.”

More information can be found at Politiken's web site.