Dec 29, 2010

Wikileaks: US Diplomats Bemoan "Primacy of Freedom of Speech" in Danish Cartoon Controversy

A Wikileaked cable out of Embassy Copenhagen from September 2006 recounts the concerns of US diplomats that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten might republish its controversial series of Mohammad cartoons to commemorate the first anniversary of their publication.  The paper ultimately did not republish the images.  The cable describes the "discreet discussions" of Embassy officials with the paper and senior Danish government officials regarding the matter, and effectively criticizes leaders in Denmark's three largest political parties for refusing to "retreat on core values such as free speech."  (Source: COPENHAGEN1327.)

If you recall, the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy began in September 2005, when the newspaper published a set of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad, provoking violent protests in a number of Muslim countries.  Apparently, the newspaper considered re-publishing the images for the first anniversary of their initial publication.  The cable states that the Embassy was informed of the paper's internal deliberations by a journalist with the news outlet.  The US Ambassador then called Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen's national security adviser, Bo Lidegaard, "to ask if this was true and to find out how the government was going to handle the issue."  Apparently the US Embassy in Stockholm works under the assumption that the Danish national security adviser is apprised of all newspaper editorial discussions that take place in the country in advance.

In a second conversation between the two officials, Lidegaard confirmed that the paper was considering re-publication, but stated that the Danish government "did not want to get involved in the matter," and warned US officials not to "openly influence the paper's decision," because the prime minister would have to publicly condemn any such action.  The cable's author notes later on, "the prime minister apparently concluded that the potential costs of being seen to intervene against free speech outweighed even the risk of another uproar."  [Emphasis added.] Noting that the paper ultimately decided not to re-publish the cartoons, the cable then goes on to ask, "How Could It Happen Again?"  In the document, we read:
For all the shock of the cartoon crisis and Denmark's heightened sensitivity to the Islamic world's concerns and the challenges of better integrating its own 200,000-strong Muslim population, there are still a lot of Danes who welcome confrontation with those they consider extremists and oppose any sign of retreat on core values such as free speech. The anti-immigration Danish People's Party, which votes with the government coalition, may be the most vocal on the subject (as well as the party that gained the most politically from the crisis). There are also many within the governing Liberal and Conservative parties who remain highly motivated in defense of free speech and Western culture.
Reflecting on the Danish response to the initial controversy, and the second potential crisis revolving around the publication of the cartoons, the cable comments that "the Danes have drawn mixed lessons from their experience in the cartoon crisis."  The cable's author writes:
On the good side, the Danes have stepped up engagement in promotion of democracy and reform abroad, especially in the Middle East. They now recognize the need to improve integration and outreach to the country's immigrant communities. Since the cartoon crisis, they have extended troop mandates in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For more on this point, see this article at Anti-War, entitled, "2006 Cable: Cartoon riots a good way to keep Denmark in wars," which is the only other source which appears to have picked up on this cable, as of this writing.  The "negative side" elaborated in the cable should be cause for concern to anyone who values the freedom of speech and the press.  From the cable:
On the negative side, though, this popular center-right government has hardened its views on the absolute primacy of free speech. The prime minister appeared willing to let Jyllands-Posten dictate the timing of the next Islam vs. West confrontation without question or open discussion within the government.  [Emphasis added.]
To reiterate: the cable states effectively that, on the negative side, the government has strong views in favor of the freedom of speech, and does not attempt to dictate the editorial decisions of the country's newspapers.  See a cache version of the full cable at Cable Search.  In related news, another cable alleges that the Syrian government played a role in the 2006 cartoon riots and embassy attacks.

1 comment:

George Phillies said...

"Apparently the US Embassy in Stockholm works under the assumption that the Danish national security adviser is apprised of all newspaper editorial discussions that take place in the country in advance."

Now, why might he think this? Because he assumes that the Danish government has all the newsrooms bugged? And why might he think that? Could it be that his government does that to American news rooms?