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Thursday, 16 October 2008

For the sake of balance?

There’s a convention in reporting news that, when someone says something a bit controversial, you give the other side a chance to respond.

Should this be the case with advertising? If I publish an ad for, say, the National Secular Society on Pink Triangle (not that we carry ads, but just suppose), am I then bound to go to the Church of England for a response? It’s a paid-for thing, don’t forget, not a news story. If the C of E said, "No, we're not interested," do I then drop the ad from the NSS and lose business?

No, ads are different from news in that respect. You might as well say that every ad for a Big Mac should have a counter-advertisement from someone in the vegetarian movement saying killing animals for food is cruel.

This strange situation has raised its head over a speech that the well-known American writer on Islamic matters Robert Spencer is giving today at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee as part of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week III.

According to the Terrorism Awareness Project, which carries images of the ads, as we do above:

The David Horowitz Freedom Center bought an advertisement (above left) in the UNW Post, school newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, to publicize Robert Spencer’s speech there on October 16 as part of Islamo Fascism Awareness Week III. On October 13 the ad appeared with an answering ad (above right) on the opposite page of the school [newspaper] which was taken out by Muslim Students Association (MSA).

Students helping to put on Spencer’s speech at UWM claim that the Muslim Students Association was offered an advance look at the Freedom Center ad and that it was allowed to print its own response free of charge. (The words above the Freedom Center read “Paid advertisement”. Above MSA’s ad, they read “Advertisement”.)

Spencer says the MSA’s ad is defamatory (and answers some of their criticisms on the page linked to above), and is demanding an apology.

Is this another case of running scared of Islamic thugs? Of fearing that, if a counterargument is not canvassed from the other side, the college newspaper will suffer the consequences?

Perhaps not. But previous Muslim behaviour of things that they don’t like would justify your being excused for thinking so.

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