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"War on Words" Conference on terrorism, media and the law ends with discussion on Draft Declaration of Principles

(IPI/IFEX) - 6 October 2009 - On the second and final day of the IPI-CILS conference "The War on Words" participants discussed on Tuesday the Danish cartoon controversy and the effect of laws criminalising blasphemy.

A second session discussed a draft declaration on terrorism, media and the law to be finalized in the coming weeks.

In the session "Shouting Fire in a Crowded Theatre: Incitement, Freedom of Expression and Religious Tolerance", Danish lawyer Michael Christiani Havemann talked about the 2005 Prophet Mohamed cartoons controversy involving the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. Havemann represented Danish Muslims in a defamation suit brought against the newspaper.

N.S. Mueen, representing the Muslim Council of Britain, suggested that the media tended to focus on Islamic terrorism rather than other forms of terrorism, and that stories involving a minority of Muslim extremists were highlighted, rather than stories about the moderate majority.

Endy Bayuni, editor-in-chief of The Jakarta Post in Indonesia, a country which has witnessed inter-religious tensions in recent years, said it was important on the one hand to promote free speech, while on the other not giving too much space to radical groups which hijack the news and use publicity to achieve their goals.

Although Bayuni argued that the cartoons were in "bad taste," he defended the right of journalists to "make mistakes" without fear of criminal punishment.

"There will always be differences of opinion regarding sensitive subjects such as religion; however, all sides to such debates should remember that they should be undertaken in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance," said IPI Director David Dadge. "It should also be appreciated that the democratic space within societies where such vital debates take place is encouraged and defended by a free and independent media."

Chairman of the US-based World Press Freedom Committee Richard Winfield noted that while "hate speech is hurtful, bad and should be combated," he did not think that the controversial cartoons amounted to "shouting fire in a crowded theatre."

The final session saw a discussion on a Draft Declaration of Principles on Terrorism, Media and the Law, moderated by Toby Mendel, Senior Legal Counsel for ARTICLE 19, who also helped with the drafting. Also on the panel were Ibrahim Helal, Deputy Managing Director at Qatar-based Al Jazeera English, Alex Schmid, Director of the Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI) think tank, and Peter Molnar, Senior Research Fellow at the Budapest Centre for Media and Communication Studies.

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