Outrage as first Australian paper publishes cartoon

Outraged Muslims today demanded an Australian newspaper apologise after it published one of a series of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have sparked angry protests around the world.

The News Corp-owned Courier-Mail, the biggest newspaper in the Queensland state capital Brisbane, apparently became the first newspaper in Australia to publish one of the Danish caricatures on Saturday despite warnings from Muslim groups.

But the low-key cartoon that illustrated an article on page 17 about an attack on the Danish embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, by angry Muslims did not catch national attention until today.

The Islamic Council of Queensland president Abdul Jalal said the paper should apologise to the state’s Muslims.

“I was hoping, praying that our media people would have more ... sense, in not trying to agitate the situation in the local scene here in Australia,” Jalal told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

Kuranda Seyit, director of the advocacy group Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations, said Muslim leaders would consider holding protest rallies.

He would also consider complaining to the media’s self-regulator, the Australian Press Council.

Courier-Mail editor David Fagan declined to comment.

Australia’s top Muslim organisation, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, is planning to ask the federal government to ban the pictures’ publication.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock called on the media to act responsibly, but stopped short of condemning the cartoons’ publication.

“People still have an obligation to act responsibly and they need to be conscious ... that one doesn’t do it gratuitously with a view to trying to provoke a response, but has in mind how these matters might be seen by others,” Ruddock told reporters.

Opposition Labour Party foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd urged the media not to be intimidated by militant Islamists in deciding whether to reproduce the images.

“We should not be kow-towing to anybody when it comes to freedom in this country,” Rudd told reporters.

Before hearing that the Courier-Mail had published a cartoon, Federation of Islamic Councils president Ameer Ali said the group would take their protest to the government soon in hopes of having the images banned in Australia. Ali is a member of Prime Minister John Howard’s Muslim advisory committee.

“Which is more important? To preserve the freedom of speech or to antagonise one-fifth of humanity who are completely offended by this obscene cartoon?” Ali said on ABC radio.

But Chris Warren, the Australian president of the International Federal of Journalists, said there was no place for government intervention.

“The role of the government in free speech matters is to do nothing,” Warren told the ABC.

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