Loving thy neighbour includes taking their sensitivities into account when expressing yourself, but, unlike in the past when the phrase might quite simply have involved the lady next door, today a person in another continent can easily infringe upon one's life.
Such was the wisdom expressed by Norway's foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store, to a hundred-strong journalists, academics and representatives of free-speech organisations from 50 nations last month, in the second conference of the Global Inter-Media Dialogue (GIMD).
The first gathering, a joint initiative of Indonesian president Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, was held last September in Bali, Indonesia, home to the world largest Muslim population, in an attempt to utilise the momentum created by the controversy over the Danish cartoons, which evoked strong emotions and widespread unrest.
The controversy raised a question central to the business of journalism: whether principles of free expression supersede considerations such as the sensitivities of other races and faiths?
During the June GIMD--entitled 'Primetime for Diversity: Journalism in a Troubled World', a question that popped up in most sessions was how to achieve the optimum coverage of different ethnic and religious groups, whether as foreign news items or as national/local news, when ethnic or religious sub-identities clash with a national one?
Although there was a consensus on many issues like the need for diversity and taking ethnic and religious sensitivities into account, deep division emerged on others, but kept the dialogue going. It was important to meet and talk, not necessarily to agree, but to understand, said foreign minister Gahr Store. Britain is about the only western nation where a handful of her own British born subjects followed the path of suicide bombers killing scores of their fellow Britons in the name of Islam. Britain, with its imperial legacy and leadership of commonwealth, was a world leader in ethnic diversity in newsrooms, enriching the copy with in-depth analysis and cultural awareness. In contrast Nordic nations, of little colonial heritage, suffer a shortage of journalists from ethnic background or those with long first-hand cultural experience of troubled regions like the Middle East, as the Danish cartoons controversy illustrated.
A similar crisis was avoided in Norway this year thanks to the presence of an Indonesian television journalist working...