Crikey reporter Sophie Black writes:

New Zealand has crashed into the controversy over the Danish
depicting the Prophet Muhammad after the country’s conservative mainstream papers The Dominion Post and The Press
reprinted the offensive images.

While newspapers in Europe continue to defy Muslim outrage by asserting their right to publish the images, papers in
America, Britain and for now, Australia, have so far passed on the
option of running any of the twelve cartoons, originally commissioned by
Danish paper Jyllands-Posten in September as
a comment on free speech.

But The Post and The Press’s decision to reprint the cartoons (The Post ran all twelve, while The Press
ran two) plus the television station TVOne’s decision to air
the images, have ignited a debate over free speech in New Zealand. Their actions have been
condemned by Muslim leaders, attracted the ire of Prime Minister Helen Clarke and
raised the possibility of trade sanctions against the country.

A Dominion Post staffer told Crikey that staff at the paper are reasonably
supportive of editor Tim Pankhurst’s decision to publish the cartoons
last Friday. Everyone
really wanted to see these cartoons, the staffer explained to Crikey, and they took on a different meaning once they
were republished. They weren’t conveying the same message as when they were first
published in the Danish paper.

In an editorial on Saturday, The Dominion Post wrote that the
“right to freedom of speech is a
precious one that has to be defended.”

But in contrast to The Press‘s
slightly more measured rationale, which maintained that “there is a world of difference between publishing the
cartoons to offend or whip up feeling and publishing them to explain a story,”The
‘s editorial takes on a more combative tone:

The freedom to question and to challenge
must include the right to be offensive, to affront people’s most heartfelt
beliefs, even to disparage that which they hold sacred. Otherwise it is an
empty freedom.

…in the clash of values at the centre of the dispute not to publish
because of fear of disturbing the sensibilities of Muslims would be to give way
in the face of bullying threats. That is what Muslims are seeking to have the
Western democracies do with their threats of bombs and trade boycotts.

And the paper takes a dig at what it calls “the Muslim case” writing
that it’s “not helped by the hypocrisy when it comes to respecting the
religious values of
others. No doubt many fundamentalist Christian Americans find it deeply
offensive for their country to be constantly labelled the Great Satan.”

The New Zealand Herald
devoted Saturday’s editorial to their decision not to publish the cartoons, saying “When any right
invoked, it can be hard to keep your head. As soon as an issue is
framed as a
test of press freedom, the temptation is to publish for no better
reason than
to assert that freedom… But in this country, and most others where
newspapers have strutted a
hairy chest on this issue, Muslims are a small minority of the
population and
we are free to offend their religious sensitivities if we want to. The only question to
consider is, why would we want to?”

“We ask the question, would we insult Christians simply to prove that we
have a right to do so?”

Crikey contacted the editors of The Dominion Post and The Press but they didn’t get back to us prior to publication.