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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 14:43 GMT
Those cartoons - right or wrong?


By Peter Barron
Newsnight editor

  • MONDAY 30 JANUARY
  • THURSDAY 2 FEBRUARY
  • TUESDAY 31 JANUARY
  • FRIDAY 3 FEBRUARY
  • WEDNESDAY 1 FEBRUARY
  • NEWSNIGHT REVIEW
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    It's a shortish column this week - most of my time over the last couple of days has been consumed dealing with the issue of how to handle the cartoons of Mohammed that have caused so much trouble.

    Muslim youth members of the Al-Aqsa Martyr brigades burn the Danish flag in Kalandia

    We went big on it on Thursday night as protests raged across the Middle East and Danish pastry sales slumped, and it would, in my view, have been wrong not to have shown the images at the centre of the dispute. On the other hand, as Peter Mandelson suggested, it would also have been unwise of the media to do anything to pour petrol on the flames.

    Our decision was to show briefly the images as they appeared in France Soir and in a Jordanian paper, but not to show them in full-frame close-up. We dealt with the issue of the most controversial picture - that of Mohammed wearing a turban in the form of a bomb - by asking an artist to redraw the cartoon with turban but without the Prophet.

    Somehow word got out in the course of the day that Newsnight was planning, in the words of one newspaper journalist who called, to go "full frontal". That was never our intention. Our aim was to report the story using the pictures in context in order to understand the depth of feeling they had aroused, but not to provoke or shock.

    Huge reaction

    Nevertheless, our treatment of the story did precipitate a huge reaction from viewers. More than 400 called to say, in almost identical terms, that they hoped we wouldn't broadcast the pictures. I had a call from Sir Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain. He too had heard we were planning to show the pictures in close-up, but was reassured when we explained how we planned to handle the story.

    A handful of viewers said they were appalled that we hadn't shown the cartoons in their entirety, and others rang to thank us for, in their view, getting the balance right
    A smaller, but nonetheless significant, number of overnight calls complained that we had shown the cartoons, however fleetingly.

    "I think that it is terrible that the BBC would even think about creating racial tension by showing the pictures," said one.

    A handful of viewers said they were appalled that we hadn't shown the cartoons in their entirety, and others rang to thank us for, in their view, getting the balance right.

    I accept that many disagree, but looking back on what we did on Thursday I believe we did get the balance right. Speaking from the perspective of a programme that seeks to promote open and impartial debate, I was most heartened by this viewer's call:

    "As a Muslim I just wanted to say I really thought the debate of two Muslims, one for and one against the cartoons of Mohammed, was excellent."

    Save the Newsnight theme

    Less controversial, for now, is how to handle Newsnight's forthcoming redesign.

    We've had a huge number of responses to our request for your thoughts on the new design. And there was a surprising degree of consensus.

    Most striking, and easiest to deal with, is that you love the Newsnight theme tune. I love it too. Even after 25 years it still stirs something in my soul every time I hear it - and I know what's coming next.

    So I can confirm that the music stays, though we are talking to its composer, George Fenton, to see if he thinks it needs an aural lick of paint.

    The forum's still open - send us your views on Newsnight's forthcoming redesign:
    CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS


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