On our last day, we met with the editor whose paper sparked the Mohammed cartoon crisis that landed Denmark among the small group of countries to have its flag burned and reviled by international protestors. BBC overview available here.
Given its small size and relatively innocuous activities around the world, many Danes were shocked by the response from Islamic communities around the world to its printing of cartoons considered blasphemous to many Muslims. We sat down with the editor to get the back story, which involved a discussion of increasing censorship pressures and even self-censoring related to Islamic issues in the press. Meaning people choosing not to run articles, images or artwork about or critical of Islam out of fear of repercussions. The response to the cartoons and accompanying/edifying article (which was given short shrift in most coverage) seemed to validate these concerns.
Although the editor, paper and cartoonists did receive support from some Muslims, most of the response was negative, fanned apparently in some cases by activists who used the controversy to raise the profile of their organization or themselves: guess that happens worldwide.
Now, more than a year later, some of the cartoonists whose art accompanied the censorship article still live under protective measures (!) and threats continue to come to the newspaper periodically.
In addition to the obvious questions this issue raised about censorship and media coverage of religious issues, it also again pointed up the shortcomings in U.S. media coverage. While this was a HUGE issue for Denmark and the Muslim community worldwide, the coverage it received in the U.S. focused almost exclusively on the protests that erupted across the Muslim world. There was very little analysis of the issue or explanation of the backstory on the matter.
The lack of U.S. media coverage of international news came up for discussion in each city we visited. Thus, many of us will be returning home with an vow for more diverse news consumption from international media outlets, such as www.bbc.com, which is pretty universally praised in Europe for its in-depth, balanced coverage of world events.