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No Action Taken Against NST After Public Apology

From Bernama of February 24, 2006

KEPALA BATAS, Feb 24 (Bernama) -- No action will be taken against the New Straits Times after its open apology for publishing a comic strip linked to the controversy over the Prophet Muhammad caricatures, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Friday.
He described the issue as over after the newspaper had expressed regret over what had happened and apologised openly.
"After they have apologised openly, there's no reservation, no conditions, and admitted that what they have done, had caused various reactions from the public.
"I am not taking any action," he told reporters after opening a seminar on teachers, " Caring Teachers are Catalysts To Human Development" at Pusat Budi Penyayang here.
Abdullah said the newspaper had published its apology on the front page, without any other news on today's edition, and this showed that the newspaper really wanted its readers to know its position.
He said the newspaper had already been told that they should not have published the caricature.
"The issue is over because from the law aspect, it is not related to the caricature of Prophet Muhammad," he said adding that that was why no action would be taken against the NST for publishing the comic strip.
However, he would get further information on the allegation that RTM's Mandarin news segment had aired a footage related to the controversial caricatures of Prophet Muhammad recently.
"Let me get more information, I have heard of this, but let me get full information on this.
"I have issued a reminder before this not to publish caricatures which touched on the sensitivities of Muslims. Haven't they read the news, especially when action had earlier been taken against other newspapers for publishing the caricatures," he said.
Abdullah said the editor should not repeat the mistake after being issued the reminder.


NST: WE APOLOGISE. UNRESERVEDLY

From New Straits Times Online of February 24, 2006

Obviously, we misjudged how different people would react to Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur syndicated cartoon published by the New Straits Times last Monday. We have written to the Internal Security Ministry in response to its letter asking us to show cause, explaining the processes involved and how the cartoon came to be published. It is a process involving the human factor, and humans err.
We told the ministry the same thing we are telling you - that we may have misjudged how different people would react to the cartoon, which, as we have pointed out to the authorities, was NOT one of the 12 produced by Danish cartoonists that outraged Muslims throughout the world. It was a totally different cartoon.
It was wry humour by an artist whose work is syndicated in more than 700 newspapers, including those in Islamic countries, and whose strip has run in the NST since 1998.
There was no caricature of the Prophet Muhammad at all in that cartoon; nor was there any derogatory comment made about the Prophet or Islam.
Perhaps, in more ordinary circumstances, such a cartoon would not have received more than a passing mention.
Yet, these are different times. The Muslim world was outraged by the blasphemy of the Danish and European newspapers.
When the Sarawak Tribune and Guang Ming Daily reproduced pictures depicting the caricature of the Prophet, the Government acted firmly and suspended both newspapers. Their editors and publishers were held accountable.
In the case of Wiley Miller's cartoon in the NST, there was no caricature of Prophet Muhammad at all. NONE.
And that is why we believed it was inoffensive. But just as we have received letters and emails, many from Muslims, saying they could not see what the fuss was all about, there are also those who feel strongly about this.
They include some members of the Cabinet, including newly appointed Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin; NGOs, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his son Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, the Opposition Parti Islam se-Malaysia, and others who have called the NST office to register their protest.
But again, we want to make very clear: There was no caricature of the Prophet published in the NST.
We have always been sensitive to religious feelings. In fact, the NST is the most multiracial newspaper in the country because we have a very good mix of Malaysians working with us at all levels.
No other newspaper can boast of that racial and religious make-up. Hence, that makes us more sensitive to each other's feelings and allows us to respect each other's beliefs to a greater extent than an organisation dominated by one racial or religious group.
When the caricature controversy began, our editors and section heads were instructed not to even think about reproducing any of the caricatures.
In the case of the Wiley Miller comic strip, the sub-editor in charge let through the cartoon because it bore no caricature nor words offensive to Islam.
Unfortunately, one blog and some media, including Zainuddin's RTM, highlighted the cartoon and came to the verdict that the NST had mocked the Prophet and Islam. From there, the issue took a life of its own.
The NSTP on Tuesday lodged a police report against the blog for inciting religious hatred against the NSTP.
But on our own part, as we said in our editorial on Tuesday, the NSTP and its editors must be held accountable if they are deemed to have crossed the boundaries which make this multiracial and multi-religious country of ours a peaceful haven.
We cannot afford to have any media inciting racial and religious hatred, especially an institution like the New Straits Times Press.
In fact, while we apologise for hurting the feelings of those who have made statements and police reports against us, we will also abide by any action the Government decides to take against the newspaper or its executives.
On February 3, on its Mandarin news on Channel 2, Radio Television Malaysia(RTM) screened reactions to the offending caricatures.
It showed a man reading a newspaper where a caricature of the Prophet was printed. The cameras focussed and closed up on the caricature THREE times for a total of 28 seconds.
A reader, who felt that the Wiley Miller cartoon was inoffensive, emailed us and informed us that the RTM clip, shown over two-and-a-half minutes, actually showed the offending caricature of the Prophet flanked by two veiled women.
We obtained copies of that news programme and we have forwarded them to the Internal Security Ministry to depict how, through human error, such things can get onto even the Government's own news channel, which was managed by one of the country's most experienced journalists, Datuk Zainuddin Maidin himself, who was then Deputy Minister of Information.
It was not Zainuddin's fault. Should he, or his then colleague Datuk Donald Lim, or the then Information Minister Datuk Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, be penalised because they were, in effect, in charge of RTM at that pertinent time?
NO. We strongly believe they should not be penalised.
People might argue that CNN, an American station that showed the same clip but "pixelled out" the caricature in respect for Muslim sensitivities, and RTM, being a television station in a Muslim country, should have been even more careful.
But the fact is, human error happens. RTM did not deliberately screen the caricature. They would be mad to do it.
Neither did the NST deliberately publish what it deemed an inoffensive cartoon. The NST never intended to hurt any feelings. At least one religious scholar has told the NST that the cartoon was not offensive but could, if different people wished, be interpreted differently.
But we stand corrected. We should have been more sensitive - human error or not. So again, we apologise.
And again, we will willingly accept any action deemed fit by the Government.


THE GOVERNMENT SAYS: SHOW CAUSE

From New Straits Times Online of February 23, 2006

One of the region's oldest newspapers, the New Straits Times, may face action over a comic strip it published last Monday. The newspaper today received a show-cause letter from the Internal Security Ministry over a Non Sequitur cartoon by Wiley Miller, which took a wry view of the controversy surrounding the Prophet Muhammad caricatures first published last year by a Danish newspaper.
The NST has three days to give reasons in writing why action should not be taken against it for publishing the cartoon in the newspaper's Life &Times section.
The ministry said the cartoon had breached the conditions of the newspaper's publishing permit under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
It added that the sketch was inappropriate and could invite negative reactions in the country, especially among Muslims.
The New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd chief executive officer Datuk Syed Faisal Albar and group editor-in-chief Datuk Hishamuddin Aun today met senior Internal Security Ministry officials in Putrajaya and explained to them the newspaper's work process.
Ministry officials also wanted to know the newspaper's rationale for publishing the cartoon.
"The matter is in the hands of the authorities," Hishamuddin said. "Everyone should allow the law to take its course."


Malaysia paper's Mohammed cartoon parody
angers opposition

From Baku Today Net of February 22, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's opposition Islamic party and non-governmental organisations slammed a government-linked newspaper for publishing a cartoon which they say mocks Muslim anger over the controversial Prophet Mohammed caricatures.
The New Straits Times (NST) daily on Monday published on its funnies page a cartoon by Willie Miller, portraying a sidewalk cartoonist sitting next to a sign saying "Caricatures of Mohammed while you wait."
A caption accompanying the cartoon said: "Kevin finally achieves his goal to be the most feared man in the world ..."
"These cartoons directly insult our Prophet," Salahuddin Ayub, head of the youth wing of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) told AFP.
"We have lodged a police report over it," he said.
The NST defended itself in an article on page two of its Wednesday edition, saying that it had not published the Mohammed caricatures that sparked bloody riots in many Muslim countries.
But Salahuddin said he was "disappointed" with the explanation.
"I'm not convinced. It still conveys the same message (of insulting the Prophet)," he said.
"The paper must openly apologise to the Muslims of Malaysia. If they fail to do so within the next 24 hours, we will organise a peaceful demonstration on Friday at its headquarters," he said.
Three non-governmental organisations also lodged police complaints against the NST, Bernama news agency reported.
The government of mainly-Muslim Malaysia suspended the publishing licence of a daily newspaper earlier this month after it re-printed the controversial drawings, one of which depicted Mohammed as an apparent terrorist.
It also slapped a blanket ban on possessing or circulating the caricatures.
A second local newspaper was also suspended for two weeks after it published a photograph showing one of the cartoons.
The drawings were first published in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September and have since been widely reprinted, mainly in Europe. - AFP.


What the NST says

From New Straits Times Online of February 22, 2006

WHAT do you see in this cartoon? Does it mock Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as suggested by Berita Publishing editor-in-chief Datuk Abdul Kadir Jasin in an SMS to New Straits Times Press group editor-in-chief Datuk Hishamuddin Aun yesterday morning? Or as echoed later by Kadir's columnist in his Malaysian Business, Jeff Ooi, shortly after that on his blog?
Does it mock Islam? So say Kadir, Ooi and the ones who lodged police reports against the NST yesterday.
What is the difference between the NST and Sarawak Tribune and Guang Ming Daily, which were both suspended?
The difference is that they carried the caricatures - whether blurred or whether as pictured in someone reading a newspaper - which, in Islam, is offensive and wrong; and which is why the Muslim world took offence at the caricatures published first in Danish and European newspapers.
If this cartoon were to mock Islam and the Prophet, then, certainly, the newspaper that publishes it, in this case the New Straits Times, its executives responsible should be held accountable. Just as the editors and publishers of the Sarawak Tribune and Guang Ming were held accountable.
But before we get caught up in the violent wave that has swept some parts of the Islamic world and which, by the grace of Allah s.w.t. has not affected either Malaysia or Indonesia, we should ask ourselves whether the attacks on the NST are out of genuine concern for the multi-racial and multi-religious fabric of the country and the image of Islam, or whether there are politics and other personal vendettas involved.
As far as Kadir and Ooi are concerned, one only has to read the back issues of Malaysian Business and previous postings on the blog to see how doggedly they have, as comrades-in-arm, attacked the NSTP Group and its executives.
We want to defend the freedom that we crave to report as freely as we can; and Kadir and Ooi have exploited this freedom to the fullest. Glory to them.
But there are also others, some more powerful, who have had their crosshairs sighted on the unyielding editors of the group. Because, simply, these editors have tried to be as professional as possible, to give their readers the news as objectively as possible. And when the truth gets reported, some get hurt. The powerful ones will seek to protect themselves with whatever means at their disposal.
Therefore, the issue we have to decide here is whether the cartoon has transgressed the limits; whether it has crossed the boundaries, and whether it has insulted Islam and the Prophet.
If it has violated all these principles, then the Government must hold the NST and its editors accountable because no one nor any newspaper should get away with insulting ANY religion.
But at the same time, let us ponder the fundamental issue - do we continue to be a society where a vocal few, with personal vendettas and less than honourable motives, can whip up sentiments and make the innocent guilty?
What are we saying of our own selves and our country if we allow people with personal motives to capitalise on religious and racial sensitivities to victimise others?


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