High cost of UK libel cases shackles freedom of speech worldwide

When the headline "High cost of UK libel cases shackling UK newspapers, says study" popped up in my RSS-reader, it gave me an immediate urge to rephrase it:

We have ample evidence to conclude that this is not only a problem confined to Albion's green isle, it's a threat to freedom of speech worldwide.

In the interest of accuracy, one commenter was quick to point out that the problem here is English, not UK, libel law. However, because something is libellous where it is read, English libel law has become a global problem.

Several of the commenters on this article also point to that the survey it described was commissioned by Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers, and that maybe the high costs associated with such cases was just what was needed to deter newspapers from printing lies and libels, which is a valid point.

Still, the problem with English libel law is that due to the high cost of fighting a libel case in England AND because the law reverses the burden of proof - you're guilty until proven innocent - it has become an effective means to threathen people into silence.

Also, because something is libellous where it is read that threat is as effective in Scandinavia, or in theory in Kuala Lumpur, as in England - in the US lobbyists and politicians are even trying to get new laws in place that will protect US citizens from facing libel suits in England, motivated in part by the case of Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld and others (cases some have dubbed legal jihad or libel tourism ). For more examples, check my posts tagged libel and my delicious bookmarks tagged libel.

For the record, the study mentioned in the Guardian article is specifically focused on Conditional Fee agreements (CFA), but even without CFAs the cost of libel cases is still many times higher than in European countries it would be natural to compare England with. An interesting point from the study, called "A Comparative Study of Costs in Defamation Proceedings Across Europe", however: it concludes that the use of CFAs potentially contravenes articles 6 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights in defamation and privacy cases - so could be interesting to see what happened if the matter was brough in for the European Court of Human Rights in Maastricht.

Update 25-02/09: see also Ministry of Justice consults on 'excessive' libel costs and Libel costs threatening regional newspapers, MPs told

Blogger detained as threat to security freed

I was pleased to read this weekend that a Malaysian court had not only ordered blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, whose arrest I blogged about here, freed, but also ruled that the country's government had acted beyond its authority in invoking a threat to national security.

The New York Times rightly pointed out that "Lawyers have long complained that Malaysia’s mildly authoritarian government uses a draconian law, the Internal Security Act, as a tool against political opponents. The act allows for indefinite detention without trial." (via Lars K. Jensen).

But blogger arrests around the world remain a big problem, and despite widespread international appeals, Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer has now been imprisoned for more than two years. It is great however, to see Reporters Without Borders campaign both on Raja Petra Kamarudin and Kareem Amer's behalf. To quote an earlier post: time to make the press freedom day a freedom of speech day?  

Freedom of Media Conference 2008

Journalisten.no live streamed parts of the Freedom of Media Conference 2008, organised by the Institute of Journalism (IJ), this week. Two keynotes have been saved for posterity:

See the moving appeal of former presidential candidate and FARC-hostage Ingrid Betancourt here. Jyllands-Posten's cultural editor, Flemming Rose, introduces a debate about The Muhammad Cartoons - an imagined clash of civilizations - here. In the talk, Rose reflects upon his decision to publish the cartoons.

In her talk, Betancourt said: "If it wasn't for you, the media, the world would have forgotten about us, the FARC hostages.

"They don't fight for ideals, that's just polish for something else. FARC is a drug cartel. The war has given them a power base and solved some of their problems, peace has not appealed to the movement."

Press play to play. To embed either of the videos: click on the blue text under the videos and embed code will appear.

For the record: Journalisten.no is my main employer

Interior minister orders two years detention for Malaysian blogger

Blogger and editor Raja Petra “RPK” Kamarudin is to be held in detention for two years under the country's draconian Internal security act (ISA). Petra, 58, has been held in Kuala Lumpur since 12 September under article 73 of the same law. He is charged with sewing confusion within the people, attacking Islam’s sacred status and is considered a threat to public order...

One of the more disturbing stories in my newsreader today. Reporters without borders has more on the story, including an appeal by Kamarudin's wife.

Update 7/10: Yesterday, Kamarudin was put on trial for sedition after writing an article about the implication of leaders of the ruling party in the 2006 murder of a young Mongolian woman.

How free is the internet?


Government efforts to censor the web are on the rise, but filtering the web tend to be inefficient, and lightweight technological solutions, which makes web-surveillance more difficult, are also on the rise. That, in essence, was the conclusion(s) I took away from a very interesting full-day seminar on this issue yesterday. Espen Andersen live blogged parts of the show here, esp. the contributions of Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales and Jonathan Zittrain (of the Berkman Centre, Oxford Uni, OpenNet Initiative etc). Me, I was stuck with a borrowed laptop with limited battery span until today, so just pen, paper and camera for me yesterday...

Danish newspapers reprint Mohammed cartoon

Today several Danish newspapers carry pictures of a controversial Mohammed cartoon, depicting the prophet as a suicide bomber, in sympathy with cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.

Many editors were shocked when a plot to murder Westergaard, for drawing caricatures satirising Mohammed, was unveiled yesterday. Editors at Politiken and Berlingske Tidende - along with Jyllands-Posten who first printed the cartoons in 2005 - pledged to reprint the most famous cartoon today.

'We have to send a clear and unambiguous signal to all who might get the same crazy idea as those who wanted to attack Kurt Westergaard. We have to make clear that in Denmark we don't accept that freedom of speech is locked up by religious zealots or held hostage to religious fanaticism,' Lisbeth Knudsen, editor-in-chief of Berlingske, told Jyllands-Posten (my translation).

The threat of law suit
She said Berlingske would reprint the cartoon as an illustration to a news story. That is much the same use of the cartoon that Ezra Levant, the publisher of Western Standard, was brought in front of the Alberta Human Rights Commission in Canada to defend. Columnist Mark Steyn has also had similar human rights complaints brought against him recently, on the basis of his writing.

In mid-January, The American Spectator published a story on what the writer, Booke M. Goldstein, a practising attorney, thought amounted to nothing less than legal jihad, listing a number of cases where publications had been brought to court or threatened with libel suits for offending or libelling Muslim dignity or dogmas. Among those cases were all the law suits against the now deceased Orianna Fallaci, and the more than 30 publishers and authors Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi-Arabian billionaire, has threatened to sue in British courts.

Since first publishing the Mohammed cartoons, Jyllands-Posten have fought off several law suits from various Muslim organisations

(I've written more on these libel threats here and here, in Norwegian)

Putin, Web 2.0 and the ghost of Giordano Bruno

I found this excellent piece in the Washington Post yesterday, on how The Kremlin is extending its reach into cyberspace, rather troubling (via Bloggers Blog). It almost seems as if Russia is edging back, step by step, towards totalitarianism. Here's an excerpt, but do check out the full article:

After ignoring the Internet for years to focus on controlling traditional media such as television and newspapers, the Kremlin and its allies are turning their attention to cyberspace, which remains a haven for critical reporting and vibrant discussion in Russia's dwindling public sphere.

The article reminded me of two things. Firstly, and unfortunately, it was a sharp reminder of how, as Julien Pain, described so well in this article, dictators, too, have entered the world of Web 2.0:

These days, "subversive" or "counter-revolutionary" material goes on the Internet and political dissidents and journalists have become "cyberdissidents" and "online journalists."...New technology allows them to receive and share news out of sight of the authorities.... The Web makes networking much easier, for political activists as well as teenagers. Unfortunately, this progress and use of new tools by activists is now being matched by the efforts of dictatorships to fight them.

Secondly, the dark tidings from Russia reminded me of one of my favourite works of art, "Giordano Bruno" by Jöran Flo. I'm so lucky that I actually have this lithography, as well as many others by the same artist, but unfortunately I've got most of my art locked away in storage. The picture is dedicated to Taslima Nasrin and the international PEN association, and I don't think it would be too far-fetched to suggest it's a tribute to everyone, everywhere, who is being persecuted for their beliefs:


Detail from "Giordano Bruno" by Jöran Flo

US shield law offers no protection for the Dr. Stockmanns of this world

Citizen journalists, bloggers and even poorly paid freelancers will be excluded from the right to protect confidential sources under a new federal US shield law proposal, passed by an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives last week.

There's still a few legal hurdles to pass before the law becomes reality, but it seems likely that the US will end up with a shield law of "limited scope and usefulness", according to David Ardia of the Citizen Media Law project.

Out of touch with reality
Enter Dr. Stockmann, the famous protagonist of Ibsen's Enemy of the People. And no, it's not only the recent problems with contaminated water in the city I live in that makes me think of him. As I've touched upon before, this law proposal is completely out of touch with reality. In one respect it's almost as out of touch with the radically changing media landscape as Ibsen's plot...

In a world where everyone can publish, Ibsen's carefully constructed plot falls to pieces. I don't know about the psychological struggles and emotional turmoil, he might still have to face those, but in today's society Dr. Stockmann could easily bypass corrupt politicians and self-serving editors by uploading a video showing the contamination at the city's prestigious baths to YouTube, or blogging about the evidence.

US shield law would benefit Stockmann's enemies
But this is also where the proposed US shield law complicates things. Let's for the sake of the argument say that a) this takes place in the US and b) that during his two years of research to establish the source of the contamination, Dr. Stockmann talks to sources whose reputation and/or jobs would be at stake should their names be revealed.

Who would stop the doctor's corrupt brother, the mayor, US shield law in hand, from forcing Stockmann, whose only motivation is serving his community and doing the right thing, to reveal his sources?

Not far-fetched
You might think that this literary scenario is far-fetched, but according to Reporters Without Borders: "In the field of human rights, it is citizen journalists and not professional journalists who have been responsible for the most reliable reports and information – the information that has most upset the governments."

Likewise, it's hardly far-fetched to believe that local 'champions' would go to great lengths to expose local misconduct or irregularieties which affect their lives or their community adversly. Social media enables people to do this more effectively than ever, that is why the current wording of the shield law proposal is so misguided.

'We need a shield law for all acts of journalism'
Amy Graham of Poynter's E-media Tidbits writes: as passed by the House, the bill now defines a "covered person" as: "a person who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public for a substantial portion of the person's livelihood or for substantial financial gain and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person."

This, writes Ardia: "would likely exclude many freelance journalists who must rely on other work to supplement their incomes. Do we really want judges to be deciding whether a journalist is earning enough money to qualify for protection?"

He concludes: "Journalists -- and more importantly, the public -- desperately need a federal shield law. But what we need is a federal shield law that protects all acts of journalism regardless of whether they are done for pay."

Make the Press Freedom day a Freedom of Speech day

Johan Norberg suggests the Press Freedom Day should be made a Freedom of Speech day. I couldn't agree more. This debate from the Frontline Club in London really illustrates why (thanks to Kevin Anderson for live blogging it).

During the debate, Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd-Fatah summed of the worrying situation for bloggers AND journalists in Egypt: "It looks grim. There are two bloggers in jail. There have been several bloggers taken by security. This is not new. This is normal. It happens to journalists all the time. It happens to activists all the time. We are now worried that the government is attacking the medium itself. With the religious taboos, there are many who are looking to limit freedom of speech. We see people who are being sent to jail. It is difficult to say if this is a trend that will continue. It is having a chilling effect at the moment."

This resonates with a report David Dadge of the International Press Institute gave on the state of press freedom globally on the World Press Freedom day: in many countries the authorites are heavily censoring bloggers and journalists alike - and journalists are increasingly seen as partial, which makes them legitimate targets in wars and conflicts.

So here's a few links to campaigns worth supporting, though there are of course a great many more bloggers and journalists in jail, held hostage or being persecuted than the three mentioned here:

BBC's Alan Johnston held hostage in Palestine
Alan Johnston banner

Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer
(English translations of the writings that put him in prison here)

Abdel-Monem Mahmoud, a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has spoken out in favour of Kareem, but has himself been imprisoned and, among other things, accused of “associating with human rights organization in an effort to soil the image of the regime.”

(In contrast to Johan, though, I do think the idea that the medium is the message holds some merit)

Yahoo is cleared in Shi Tao case, but ignorance is no excuse

The authorities in Hong Kong have decided there is not enough evidence to prove Yahoo! Hong Kong handed over information from Shi Tao's Yahoo mail account, which helped convict the Chinese reporter, accused of leaking state secrets, to ten years in prison on mainland China (via The Times and USA Today).

'The result of the Hong Kong authorities' investigation is consistent with my understanding of the facts', writes Rebecca MacKinnon, but "the issue for me is that Yahoo! chose to host user e-mail data in a jurisdiction where the company would inevitably wind up serving as a conduit for human rights violations.

They made a choice. Not all companies have made the same choice. It was not something they 'had' to do. They have not ever expressed public regret for having made this choice. Now they say it's out of their hands because the Chinese company Alibaba now controls Yahoo! China. Yahoo! deserves to take a hit on its global brand reputation and user trust as a result."

I couldn't agree more. This whole story reminds me of an excellent post by Adriana I never found the right opportunity to blog about: Complicity in a crime is also a crime. Here's an excerpt, but do check out the full post:

"I am fed up with Western companies collaborating with dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, helping them restrict the internet and monitor communications by those who disagree and oppose them. Julien Pain of Reporters without Borders writes in Dictatorships catching up with Web 2.0:

These days, "subversive" or "counter-revolutionary" material goes on the Internet and political dissidents and journalists have become "cyberdissidents" and "online journalists." ... The Web makes networking much easier, for political activists as well as teenagers. Unfortunately, this progress and use of new tools by activists is now being matched by the efforts of dictatorships to fight them. Dictators, too, have entered the world of Web 2.0.

Today the likes of Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Skype, Yahoo! cannot be excused even on the basis of ignorance....."

Update 16/03: just came across this brilliant Wired article which shows just how problematic this situation is, "Yahoo betrayed my husband".

A full-frontal attack on citizen journalism

The newly approved French law, which makes it illegal for non-accredited journalists to film or broadcast acts of violence, is a full-frontal assault on citizen journalism, writes Roy Greenslade. And rightly so.

Even if we presume that this assault on citizen journalism is nothing but an unintended consequence of a law whose professed intention is to clamp down on public order offences, introducing 'a distinction between professional journalists, allowed to disseminate images of violence, and ordinary citizens', is very troubling, as noted in this press release from Reporters Without Borders:

"In the field of human rights, it is citizen journalists and not professional journalists who have been responsible for the most reliable reports and information – the information that has most upset the government. Reporters Without Borders thinks it would be shocking if this kind of activity, which constitutes a safeguard against abuses of authority, were to be criminalized in a democratic country."

At its best, citizen journalism is an important, some would say invaluable, correction and supplement to mainstream media coverage. It broadens the picture. We all know how easy it is for MSM to get stuck talking to the same heads all the time, how the constant deadline race means we rely too much on newswires and don't find the time to do enough independent reporting.

Besides, sometimes MSM simply don't get to the scene first, or they can't get there at all, which I'm sure was part of the rationale for the recent deal between Reuters and Flickr. What if the French riots were to be reignited, and we, in this day and age, would only be allowed to see footage filmed by accredited journalists. If all French bloggers, podcasters, vodcasters, and even those snapping a picture with their mobile phone camera and sending it to a relative, could be put on trial or fined for publishing footage from the frontlines. How bizarre, troubling, surreal....

Then of course, there is the issue of standards, as raised in this recent debate. How can we force citizen journalists to abide by certain standards in terms of ethics, liability etc ? Short answer, you can't. Not unless you're going to publish a piece by a citizen journalist and you're vetting the material he or she provides, at least one would hope any responsible publisher would, take it for granted even.

France bans non-journalists from recording acts of violence

"The French Constitutional Council has approved a law that criminalizes the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists. The law could lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images, one French civil liberties group warned on Tuesday."

Okay, the law was intended to prevent so-called "happy slapping", the recording of violent acts to entertain the attacker's friends, according to BBC, but "the broad drafting of the law so as to criminalize the activities of citizen journalists unrelated to the perpetrators of violent acts is no accident, but rather a deliberate decision by the authorities," a campaigner told MacWorld/IDG.

Ironically, the law was proposed by none other than Nicloas Sarkozy, the French right-wing presidential candidate and Minister of the interior, whose presidential campaign is being advised by Loic Le Meur, Six Apart's European VP and one of France's most widely read bloggers. Le Meur is said to support Sarkozy in 'part because he believes he is the best candidate to help bring new opportunities to the French software and technology industries.' Right.

Le Meur, some will remember, had a bit of a fallout with parts of the blogosphere when he let politicians hijack blogging conference LeWeb 3.0 in Paris last autumn, and the bloggers present were none too happy about Sarkozy's 'monologue' for the cameras. It left people with the impression Sarkozy was there to broadcast how trendy he was by attending a blogging conference, while ignoring the people present at the actual conference. So not much praise for Le Web 3.0 organiser LeMeur on this account, let's hope he had nothing to do with Sarkozy's newly passed law, and this other piece of proposed legislation, which frankly is the most backward, oppressive and outright frightening proposal I've heard from a Western government in a long time:

"The government has also proposed a certification system for Web sites, blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules. The journalists’ organization Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for a free press, has warned that such a system could lead to excessive self censorship as organizations worried about losing their certification suppress certain stories," according to Macworld/IDG.

On making it illegal for non-accredited journalist to record acts of violence David Winer writes: "lf such a law were passed in the US, we'd assume it was because the government was getting ready to commit acts of violence that they didn't want people to see on the web. The French would probably talk about how we'd lost it in the USA."

Egyptian blogger sentenced to four years prison

Kareem Amer, the Egyptian blogger who has been detained since November for opinions he expressed on his blog, has just been sentenced to FOUR years in prison: three years for contempt of religion, and one year for defaming the Egyptian president (via Johan Norberg, who only yesterday spoke at a rally in solidarity with Kareem in front of the Egyptian embassy in Stockholm).

Kareem Amer, the online pseudonym for former law student Abdul Kareem Suleiman Amer, who had argued for secularism, free speech and women's rights, is the first Egyptian to be put on trial for Internet-based journalism, and, as such, today's verdict may set a frightening precedent. For one, it's a sharp reminder that dictatorships are catching up with Web 2.0...

Update 20:42: Here's Kareem's blog, translated by Google, a bit more on the statements he was condemned for here.

Swedish blogggers and others protesting
against Kareem's trial and for freedom of speech

(photo via Fredrik Malm's blog)

What Mohammed and Montgomery can tell us about our brave new (media) world

2006 was a year of big ethical challenges and high-strung financial deals, or "The year of Mohammed and Montgomery" as Norwegian trade journal Journalisten so aptly headlined its summary of Norway's media year.

The year started with Norwegian and Danish flags and embassies set ablaze in the Middle East, following the publication of the infamous Mohammed cartoons, and ended with loud protests about former Mirror boss David Montgomery wielding the axe in his new won European media empire – both potent symbols of a rapidly changing (media) world.

The Mohammed-crisis
"There are no time zones anymore," said Christopher Willcox, the then US deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, while describing the challenges in fighting the propaganda war in Iraq, during a seminar I attended in May 2003. Internet, he complained, has made "segregating messages for different groups very difficult".

The cartoon war showed us that there is no national media anymore: as networks of communities spawn the globe, and groups of all interests and persuasions use internet to communicate across borders and distances, every news story in every language has a potential global audience and can spark global reactions and alliances.

The Orkla-Mecom debacle
So does national media ownership really matter in this new global reality? David Montgomery, and his British investment vehicle Mecom's, successful bid for Orkla Media certainly had politcians and journalists in Norway, Denmark, Germany and elsewhere up in arms. "These newspapers are not only businesses but democratic institutions vital to local political debate, a weakening of these newspapers would be critical ," Norway's culture minister, Trond Giske, told me in an interview, and repeated his 'strong preference for a Norwegian buyer' all through the sales process.

The Orkla-Mecom debacle was a typical example of the tension between the local and the global: it could have been Ganette's acquistion of local newspapers in the UK or MacDonalds buying a local restaurant chain in India – at core it was the same story, same reactions, just different countries and different industries. Mecom's acquistion of Orkla Media was also symbolic of the democratisation of finance: could a "fly" like Mecom have found the financial backing to "swallow an elephant" like Orkla Media 30 years ago? The company's highly geared business model continues to be a cause of great concern among the employees of former Orkla Media.

Highlights from the Scandinavian media year 2006

If the year behind us is anything to go by, the Scandinavian media market will be an interesting one to watch also in the year to come. 2006 was so packed with media wars, controversies, upheaval and startling revelations that it almost beggared belief.

On a serious note, it was the year of Mohammed and Montgomery, a year the regions' media map was redrawn, and the year of the great freesheet invasion. Among the lighter, but still thought-provoking, stories that caught my attention: All is fair in love and newspaper war, Watch out for the virtual freemasons and Move to scrap TV-license after ministers fail to pay up.

As the year progressed, so did these stories, and some I simply never found the time to blog, so most of these blog posts are new, though I sometimes link back to old stuff to explain. Two previously blogged stories that were symptomatic of the year: 'hack fired for accessing the governing party's intranet blogs his way back' and 'tabloid contests that a blogger brought down Sweden's trade minister: it had the scoop a day before it published it'

Evidence suggest sex, crime and violence, celebrity and scandal generate the biggest hits online (via Martin Stabe), and Norwegian media magazine Kampanje's top 20 list for 2006 seems to confirm this, but for this blog it's only partially true. Yes, my top story of the year was probably the media company that graded prostitutes, it travelled all over the media world and blogosphere (read the real story behind how the story surfaced here), and generated big hits, especially from Washington Post and this blog I can't even figure out the letters in, but stories on the Mecom-Orkla debacle, especially this and this, and the Norwegian journalist who faked interviews with the rich and the famous also generated a lot of traffic (the latter even earned me a rather dubious thank you note from Microsoft for blogging it in a language its spin maestros could read).

On a more philosophical note, after a year abuzz with so much change an upheaval I guess it's hard not to notice how different the world looks, but the following quote from Norwegian journalist Paul Leveraas is still worth pondering for most news professionals, including a self-empoyed one such as myself: "We stand in the stream of events, while busy chasing deadlines the world changes and we are too busy to notice the change." (I must have copied this down in my early blogging days, cause I don't have a direct url for it).

Jyllandsposten wins Mohammed cartoon libel

A court ruled on Thursday that Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten did not libel Muslims by printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that unleashed a storm of protests in the Islamic world. Seven Danish Muslim organisations brought the case, saying the paper had libelled them with the images, which included one depicting the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, by implying Muslims were terrorists (via Yahoo/Reuters, read the full story here). "Anything but a clear acquittal would have been a catastrophe for freedom of the press and the media's ability to fulfil its role in a democratic society," Jyllands-Posten editor Carsten Juste told JP's online edition (in Danish).

Mohammed controversy erodes Danish press freedom

Denmark has dropped from first to nineteenth place in Reporters Without Borders’ annual ’Worldwide Press Freedom Index' due to serious threats against the authors of the Mohammed cartoons (link via Börsen, in Danish). It is the first time in recent years journalists in a country that is very observant of civil liberties have had to have police protection after receiving death threats because of their work.

The Mohammed controversy: what is safe to publish?

The People Party's Youth (DFU) in Denmark has filed a complaint against Nyhedsavisen for publishing a video showing their members competing to draw Mohammed at a party. The frontpage story from the freesheet's launch day has turned out to be a problematic scoop that raises troubling, but important questions.

A left-leaning editor gets hold of the 'ultimate scoop': a video showing drunken youth politicians from Denmark's biggest anti-immigration party competing to make fun of Mohammed, exactly what the editor for a long time has suspected goes on in the echelons of power on the far right. A disgrace for the party? Well, maybe people expected that sort of thing from The People Party's Youth (DFU), but the editor is attacked for reigniting Muslim anger by publishing the story. The Danish Embassy in Iran is bombarded with Molotov cocktails, and Danish Muslims scramble to explain to their counterparts worldwide that no, the video was not made to offend Muslims. The publishing editor insists that the international protests are not his fault but DFU's.

Yesterday, DFU filed a complaint against Nyhedsavisen to the Danish press complaints commission for publishing the video from their summer conference: "This was a closed, private arrangement where the public did not have access. The video recordings were made by a person who, at the time was a member, under the condition that the recordings were for private use only and would not be made public," said Kenneth Kristensen, the leader of DFU. He claimed that the video of drunken DFU members drawing Mohammed was of marginal public interest, and asserted that the only effect of publishing the recordings was to put the lives of those captured on the video in danger (several of them received death threats after the video was published and had to go undercover).

Now, one might argue, as many do, that the 'scoop' was lowbrow journalism at best, or a 'non-story', that it had an agenda (to disgrace the right), and it was a storm in a tea cup of limited interest to the public. Still, the angry and violent reactions this story has attracted are frightening and have far-reaching repercussions. I'm tempted here, to let the facts above stand on their own and let people draw their own conclusions, but here are a few questions this story leaves me with (apart from the ever controversial issue of filming by stealth):

Do we live in a world where journalists must abstain from reporting on certain issues for fear of offending religious sensibilities, even when, as in this case, wrongly or rightfully, the editor might have thought he contributed to revealing a threat to multiculturalism? Should he have expected the death threats to DFU? Is this something we have to learn to live with: that stories which expose a negative story about Islam, or people making fun of the religion, result in death threats against the people involved? And has it really come to this? That youths, admittedly with political roles, drawing stupid drawings at a party can become a threat to a country's economy (Danish companies faced renewed boycotts), and ultimately world peace?

Last week it was feared that Nyhedsavisen's 'scoop' would lead to a new crisis for Denmark on the same scale as the cartoon war. That seems to have been averted, but the whole affair leaves behind many disturbing questions.

Update 21/12-06: The Danish press complaints comisson critisises Nyhedavisen: a majority of its members feel the video was of no public interest, the freesheet's editor disagrees (in Danish, via Mediawatch).