Friday, July 20, 2007

Crude Cartoon Controversy or Freedom of Speech Challenge?


Defenders of freedom of the press are up in arms about the forced withdrawal of a national publication. Spain's Supreme Court ruled today that a crude cartoon of Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia having sex was an insult to the royal family and the people they reign over.
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Judge Juan del Olmo ordered authorities to seize all copies of the magazine running the cartoon, as well as the mold used to print it. He also demanded that the publishers provide the name of the cartoonist for possible prosecution. Apparently slandering or defaming the Spanish Royal Family is illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison.
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The cartoon appeared on the cover of the current issue of El Jueves, a satirical publication. In it, the cartoon-Prince says, "You know, if you get pregnant, this will be the closest thing I'll have done to work in my life."
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Aside from targeting the Royal Family, who are supported by taxpayer money, the cartoon is also aimed at Prime Minister Zapatero's recently inaugurated program to pay 2,500 euros to the parents of newborns and newly adopted children.
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"You've noticed the elections are coming, ZP! 2500€ per child," is splashed above the cartoon.
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The complete name of the publication is "El Jueves, la revista que sale los Miércoles." ("Thursday, the magazine that comes out on Wednesdays.") Similar to Mad Magazine or National Lampoon, it was first published in 1977, two years after the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died. This is the first time an issue has been withdrawn. It is irreverent, popular and never subtle.
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On its web site today El Jueves posted a sample of the cartoon (as did just about every newspaper in Spain, except for the right-leaning ABC) along with a statement that I've translated below:
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July 20, 2007?
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We are writing this note on Friday, July 20, 2007, at 7pm. Our editorial offices are filled with media representatives asking about the banning of our magazine. We do not know how to respond to them. El Jueves has published dozens, hundreds of cartoons of the Royal family -- and of politicians, celebrities, ETA and anything that moves. We have even published a book, TOUCHING THE BORBONS, a 350 page compilation of the most amusing of these cartoons.
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We are graphic humorists and we work fully aware of our charge, what the readers expect of us, which is to explore the limits of freedom of speech. We can actually accept that on occasion we may be excessive. It's part of the job. If we go too far, there are the courts but...banning? The police inspecting newsstands throughout the country and pulling our magazine? Are we really writing this on July 20, 2007?
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What do you think? / ¿Que crees?