Thursday, October 19, 2006

Where has the satire gone?

What do I find in my newspaper today?...

A staff revolt at the Daily Star prevented publication of a spoof Islamic version of the paper called the "Daily Fatwa".

The mock-up "Daily Fatwa", which promised a "Page 3 Burkha Babes Special" and competitions to "Burn a Flag and Win a Corsa" and "Win hooks just like Hamza's", was prepared to run as page 6 in Wednesday's edition of the Daily Star, one of the stable of newspapers owned by publisher Richard Desmond.

But shortly before the Star was due to go to press on Tuesday evening, concerned members of the National of Journalists (NUJ) called an emergency meeting in the 9th floor canteen of Desmond's Northern & Shell building beside the River Thames.

After 25 minutes, the NUJ chapel passed a motion saying that the article was "deliberately offensive" to Muslims.

The motion read: "The chapel fears that this editorial content poses a very serious risk of violent and dangerous reprisals from religious fanatics who may take offence at these articles. This may place the staff in great jeopardy. This chapel urges the management to remove the content immediately."

To the surprise of some of the journalists, the newspaper's management promptly complied, following discussions between the deputy night editor Ben Knowles, the editor Dawn Neesom and the editorial director Paul Ashford.

Desmond and Ashford are understood to have seen proofed versions of the page earlier that evening. A minority of members of staff felt that removing the article went against principles of freedom of speech.

...well, well, well. Another blow for freedom of speech in our country. There is nothing wrong with satire and there is space for this type of spoof in our national press. The National Union of Journalists has no right to interfere with the editorial decisions of a newspaper - the editors should have stood their ground. If the journalists want to work for another paper that is up to them - they know there are a lot of people out there who could take over their jobs tomorrow. Journalists are over-subscribed and many people want to get into journalism but competition is fierce - without even considering the possibility of employing Polish workers -like lots of other trades love to do to depress wage costs. We should not have to worry about offending people - the reader decides which newspaper to buy or not. The customer is self selecting and will have a sense of humour. I would not be offended by a spoof news page like the one that was made up and type approved. Islam must be a feeble religion if it takes offence so easily. Why should we be treading on egg shells? Where can we draw the line with acceptable humour if we cannot publish satirical pieces like this? We should not worry about offending a small number of Muslims in this country because you cannot claim that all Muslims will be offended only that a small vocal minority could be. Then we have to look at the figures involved, only 3 per cent of the UK population are classed as Muslim. Whatever you print in a newspaper could offend someone and censoring our press would offend me!
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