Poking a bear in the face with a stick

Early Wednesday afternoon the Gauntlet received a call from a CBC reporter. This usually means one of two things, either the reporter needs some information she can’t get anywhere else (not very likely) or we did something to piss somebody off (more likely). This time, however, she was calling under the assumption that we were going to do something to piss somebody off. Apparently, an eastern Canadian student paper re-printed an infamous cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, origanally printed by Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, earlier this month, earning themselves a campus-wide ban from the university president. The CBC reporter thought other student papers might be doing the same thing. Have we become that predictable?

This reporter was right about one thing, we had intended to discuss censorship and the limits of good taste in this week’s editorial. Okay, she was partially right about another thing, we had also discussed running a religiously offensive editorial cartoon. As you can see above, we chose not to because, well, that would be like poking a bear in the face with a stick. Yeah, you can do it, but does your reason justify getting your arms ripped off?

Now, to those of you who have payed attention in the past, you know the Gauntlet is no stranger to printing content that is offensive to some people. Sometimes a lot of people. However, we like to think that we have good reason when we do. Such is the beauty of free speech.

The Danish editors of Jyllands-Posten no doubt felt they were publishing something worthwhile when they first printed the cartoons. What that might be, we’re not entirely sure. Yes, Islam has been linked to terrorism, but are you making the best use of your editorial column inches by lighting up in a fundamentalist refinery like the Middle East?

Often what happens when overzealous editors overstep the bounds of good taste (and the Gauntlet has been guilty of this more than once) is that the message gets trampled by the outrage.

There is a very fine line between getting it right and shocking people just enough to ponder and undercutting your own ideas with heavy handedness. The line is thin, but it’s also very important. In order for progress to occur in journalism, the opportunity for those decisions must remain intact.

As journalists get more experienced, they get better at making the distinction between poignancy and bad taste. The CBC reporter assumed that student newspapers would be more likely to err on the side of scat, and for a paper out east, she was correct.

Looking at the editorial call made by Jyllands-Posten it’s nice to see that the big boys can make the same mistakes too. And maybe–just maybe–next time we’ll both get it right.

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