South Africa Muslims, media in dispute
Debates erupted between South African Muslims and local media over the controversial cartoons.india Updated: Feb 10, 2006 12:42 IST
South African Muslims and the local media have entered into unprecedented debates over the issue of cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed that have caused worldwide anger.
The Cape Argus newspaper published an article in its Sunday edition that angered Muslims countrywide. Muslims here say increasing subscriber and advertiser cancellations forced the newspaper to meet the powerful Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and publish an apology over the article.
But the newspaper said the meeting with the MJC had not been prompted by a call from Muslim readers and advertisers to boycott the paper.
"(The) decision to apologise by the Cape Argus was an acknowledgement of an error in judgment," said Chris Whitfield, editor of the Cape Times and member of an Independent Newspapers delegation that met with the MJC.
Also present from the Independent Newspapers group were the editors of four other publications of the group.
The MJC lifted the boycott call after the Cape Argus daily published an apology in its Wednesday editions and also agreed to publish in the Sunday Argus a series of articles that would highlight the life of the Prophet.
MJC President Ebrahim Gabriels said the organisation had accepted the apology by Independent Newspapers and welcomed the articles to be published as these would provide an opportunity to inform non-Muslims better on how the Prophet's life and teachings impact on Muslims worldwide.
The MJC also accepted an apology tendered by another newspaper, the weekly Mail and Guardian, after it published in its edition last Friday one of the Prophet cartoons that has angered Muslims.
While these moves by the publications have eased some tensions between the Muslim community and the media, they were not welcomed on all fronts.
The South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF) hit out at threats that had allegedly been made against newspaper vendors, editors and staff.
Many vendors stopped stocking publications of the groups that were identified as causing offense, some claiming that it was not necessarily in protest but due to intimidation. Several sellers said they had received anonymous pamphlets threatening to burn their shops down if they stocked the publications.
Extending the fight against the media on this issue, a Pretoria Muslim advocacy group, Media Review Network, has engaged IT specialists in trying to find a way to remove the twelve offensive cartoons from the internet even though the organisation's chairman, Iqbal Jassat, conceded that it would be "an extremely difficult, almost impossible task."
The MJC's Hendrickse said the body would also approach Google with a request to remove access to the cartoons through its popular Internet search engine.
The South African Human Rights Commission, a statutory body established to oversee the rights entrenched in the Constitution, said the Muslim cartoon issue posed a huge challenge to South Africa's young democracy.
The Commission's Chairman, Jody Kollapen, said the challenge was to balance the two important rights at stake in the matter, the right of the media to freedom of expression and the right to dignity on the part of the Muslim community.
The Prophet's cartoons were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September last year but they snowballed into a major controversy sparking worldwide protests by Muslims after they were reprinted by some European newspapers.