U.S. Newspapers get complaints against Obsession DVD ad on Muslims

Posted on October 3, 2008


By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Business Writer

Newspapers that carried an advertising supplement in recent weeks containing a DVD critical of radical Muslims have faced complaints from readers and questions about whether newspapers should offer a platform to everyone willing to pay for distribution.

Although a few papers refused to carry the DVD, about 70 including The New York Times distributed it on the grounds that rejecting it would violate the sponsor’s right to free speech. The decision generated letters, cancellations and even a protest.

The Clarion Fund, a nonprofit founded in 2006 to address “the most urgent threat of radical Islam,” spent millions of dollars distributing the DVDs mostly in battleground election states. That targeting led to further outcry about the group’s motives.

“This is definitely the most feedback that I’ve gotten to an ad,” said Ted Vaden, public editor for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. “It’s among the heaviest reaction I’ve gotten to anything. The great majority of the reaction was negative.”

Vaden said the paper received about 500 e-mail and phone messages and had some 50 cancellations. He said the paper may have sparked some of the complaints by writing a front-page story calling attention to “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” the DVD insert that critics have denounced as anti-Muslim propaganda.

The decision over running the ad was similar to what online services like Google Inc.’s YouTube and Yahoo Inc.’s Flickr face when they let users freely share provocative video or photos. They get complaints of promoting unpopular viewpoints when they try to uphold free-speech principles; they get complaints of censorship when they don’t.

Newspapers generally insist on giving a platform to a variety of viewpoints, but readers who complained were largely critical.

“I cannot believe that I was sent the hate-inflaming, fear-mongering video disk `Obsession’ in my newspaper!” Margaret Lewis of Durham, N.C., wrote to The News & Observer. “What will you enclose next? KKK robes?” [More]