Flemming Rose, the editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten who was at the center of the 2005 controversy over his newspaper’s publication of a controversial series of political cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, has been honored with an award from the Danish Free Press Society.
In 2005, Rose invited 25 newspaper cartoonists to submit drawings of the prophet Mohammed “as they saw him.” Only 12 agreed, and all of the cartoons submitted to Jyllands-Posten were subsequently published. As Rose told the London Telegraph, the cartoons were run as a “test of self-censorship in Denmark.”
Though objections to the cartoons arose immediately in Denmark, it was not until early 2006 that outrage over the cartoons broke out worldwide. A group of Muslim clerics, angered by the initial publication of the cartoons and the refusal of the Danish government to penalize Jyllands-Posten, publicized the cartoons during a tour of predominantly Muslim nations, and they were subsequently republished in newspapers throughout the Middle East, Europe and the rest of the world. Boycotts of Danish products, riots and violence that claimed over a dozen lives, and the trashing and burning of Danish and other European Embassies in Muslim nations followed.
Rose and the Jyllands-Posten refused to apologize for the publication. The paper issued a statement apologizing for any “offense,” but not for the cartoons themselves. Rose also responded by writing a piece entitled “Why I Chose to Publish Those Cartoons.”
He was placed on leave by the paper, a move that some members of the Muslim community in Denmark applauded. The Jyllands-Posten and Rose characterized the leave as a “chance to recover” during a “crisis.” The Danish Prime Minister defended the paper in a public statement.
Rose was subsequently reinstated as editor. The Danish Free Press Society, established in 2004 to respond to threats to free expression “by religious and ideological interests and international pressure groups,” awarded Rose the Sappho Prize in a ceremony on March 27. Rose received a prize of 20,000 Danish Kroner, along with a statue of the poet Sappho, which the Free Press Society considers “a symbol of unconventionality, the love of freedom and human equality.” The Free Press Society says it awards the prize to persons who “combine journalistic skill with courage and a refusal to compromise.”
The Jyllands-Posten won a lawsuit levied against it because of the cartoons in Danish court in late 2006. (See “Danish Court Rules Mohammed Cartoons Are “Not Offensive,” in the Fall 2006 issue of the Silha Bulletin.) In March 2007, a French newspaper won a similar lawsuit. (See “French Editor Wins Lawsuit Over Publication of Cartoons,” on page 11 of this issue of the Silha Bulletin.)
For complete background on this story, see “Controversial Cartoons Lead to Worldwide Concern for Speech, Press Freedom, and Religious Values,” in the Winter 2006 issue of the Silha Bulletin.
– Sara Cannon, Silha Center Staff