WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Freedom of speech brings responsibility

Archbishop John Dew

A few days ago, someone commented that it was common for many people these days to shrug the shoulders and say ‘whatever!’ to something they didn’t agree with.

The context really was that anything goes, anything is acceptable and many people just accept whatever is happening in society. We no longer know how to make a stand for what we value and believe in.

Last month (8 February) I was privileged to attend a meeting between media representatives and various religious leaders.

The Race Relations Conciliator, Joris de Bres, called this meeting in response to the publication of insulting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, and the way they offended Muslims.

At this meeting all the participants agreed that the media have the right of freedom of speech, but this also carries with it responsibilities which must be taken seriously.

Since this meeting, we Catholics, and others who honour Mary, have once again been subject to insults and derision. We know that this time the insults have come from the media mogul, CanWest, who also owns TV3 and Radio Live.

The company apparently took no notice of our protests and requests not to show the episode of South Park entitled ‘Bloody Mary’.

I do not need to go into the details of the programme here. It is enough to say that the programme was demeaning to women, an insult to the Church, to Pope Benedict XVI and a gratuitous insult to someone we honour in a very special way as the mother of Jesus.

The bishops of New Zealand wrote a letter of protest to be read out or published at Masses on 19 February. We suggested that we boycott TV3, CanWest and RadioLive and the companies who advertise through these organisations.

Thank you to those who wrote to CanWest protesting at their lack of respect, and their arrogant decision to screen the programme several weeks ahead of schedule.

Our protests do make a difference. It is not a case of a shrug of the shoulders and ‘whatever!’

We didn’t say ‘whatever!’ over the ‘Virgin in the Condom’ exhibition at Te Papa [1998], we didn’t say ‘whatever!’ over the rude and offensive Popetown television series last year.

Even though we have used the legitimate processes to make our protests over Popetown, we have still not made any progress and have been forced to resort to legal avenues of protest.

Following the screening of the South Park episode, our social justice agency, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, has called for media guidelines to be put in place covering religion and race relations. I suggest that we get behind this cause and let the Broadcasting Standards Authority know that we have had enough.

If the media have the right to publish whatever they want, be it cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, Popetown or ‘Bloody Mary’, we too have the right to have our views heard.

It is not enough just to shrug our shoulders and say ‘whatever!’