Comedy Central on Southpark Censorship

Comedy Central have replied to my e-mail about their censorship of Southpark, specifically that they banned the show showing Muhammed giving Family Guy a football helmet, yet allowed Jesus to defecate on various Americans and the US flag.

Their (standard) reply is below along with my e-mail to them, and my comments follow them:

Dear Viewer,

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the “South Park” episodes entitled “Cartoon Wars.” We appreciate your concerns about censorship and the destructive influence of outside groups on the , entertainment industry and particularly Comedy Central.

To reiterate, as satirists, we believe that it is our First Amendment right to poke fun at any and all people, groups, organizations and religions and we will continue to defend that right. Our goal is to make people laugh and perhaps, if we’re lucky, even make them think in the process.

Comedy Central’s belief in the First Amendment has not wavered, despite our decision not to air an image of Muhammad. Our decision was made not to mute the voices of Trey and Matt or because we value one religion over any other. This decision was based solely on concern for public safety in light of recent world events.

With the power of freedom of speech and expression also comes the obligation to use that power in a responsible way. Much as we wish it weren’t the case, times have changed and, as witnessed by the intense and deadly reaction to the publication of the Danish cartoons, decisions cannot be made in a vacuum without considering what impact they may have on innocent individuals around the globe.

It was with this in mind we decided not to air the image of Muhammad, a decision similar to that made by virtually every single media outlet across the country earlier this year when they each determined that it was not prudent or in the interest of safety to reproduce the controversial Danish cartoons. Injuries occurred and lives were lost in the riots set off by the original publication of these cartoons. The American media made a decision then, as we did now, not to put the safety and well being of the public at risk, here or abroad.

As a viewer of “South Park,” you know that over the course of ten seasons and almost 150 episodes the series has addressed all types of sensitive, hot-button issues, religious and political, and has done so with Comedy Central’s full support in every instance, including this one. “Cartoon Wars” contained a very important message, one that Trey and Matt felt strongly about, as did we at the network, which is why we gave them carte blanche in every facet but one: we would not broadcast a portrayal of Muhammad.

In that regard, did we censor the show? Yes, we did. But if you hold Comedy Central’s 15-year track record up against any other network out there, you’ll find that we afford our talent the most creative freedom and provide a nurturing atmosphere that challenges them to be bold and daring and places them in a position to constantly break barriers and push the envelope. The result has been some of the most provocative television ever produced.

We would like nothing more than to be able to look back at this in a few years and think that perhaps we overreacted. Unfortunately, to have made a different decision and to look back and see that we completely underestimated the damage that resulted was a risk we were not willing to take.

Our pledge to you, our loyal viewers, is that Comedy Central will continue to produce and provide the best comedy available and we will continue to push it right to the edge, using and defending the First Amendment in the most responsible way we know how.

Sincerely,
Comedy Central Viewer Services

—–Original Message—–
From: ComedyCentral Servers @ ComedyCentral
Sent: Thursday, April 13, 2006 8:09 PM
To: Viewer Services @ Comedy Central
Subject: South Park – Southpark Censorship

Name: David Farrar

E-mail Address: david@farrar.com

Message: Shame for the hypocrisy you have shown. You allow (as you
should) a bleeding Virgin Mary and a defecating Jesus but will not allow Muhammed to hand someone a fish.

The message you send out is that terrorism and burning embassies down does work.

I have been one of the biggest fans of your network. Today I am merely a customer.

Comedy Central’s reply is deeply disappointing, but at least honest. They don’t claim any defence except the fear of violence if they did not censor the cartoon.

CC claim that they still believe it is their right to poke fun at any and all people and religions. Well sorry but when you refuse to show one religion’s prophet, then any such belief is no more than meaningless rhetoric.

The rationale of being based “solely on concern for public safety in light of recent world events.” is to be blunt morally reprehensible. This is the equivalent of paying the kidnappers their ransom demands. The only logical message to take from this is if you burn enough embassies down, then Comedy Central will censor their own shows to placate you. It excuses the actions of the violent thugs who took part in these events by saying showing Muhammed on a TV show would somehow mean Comedy Central is responsible for what they might do in reaction.

We also see from Comedy Central’s response how newspapers like the NZ Herald have contributed to this cloak of self-censorship. The *only* acceptable reaction to the Danish cartoon protests should have been every media outlet in the world to show them. But because so few were as principled as the local Fairfax papers, now you have Comedy Central justifying their religious censorship on the grounds of “we decided not to air the image of Muhammad, a decision similar to that made by virtually every single media outlet across the country earlier this year”

The final indignity in the response from Comedy Central is they miss the point entirely again when they endorse the message behind the Cartoon Wars episodes, yet still forbid broadcasting a portrayal of Muhammad. Good God – the entire point of the episodes was to fight for the right to show that very image. Whatever spin doctor wrote this reply for Comedy Central should be shot.

No doubt some people wonder why I am spending so much time and energy on what could be seen as a trivial issue – whether or not Muhammed was seen handing a football helmet to Family Guy on Southpark. But as I suspect most people have figured out – it is about far far more than that. It is very much the thin end of the wedge when it comes to standing up for the right to not be bound by the dictates of the religion which throws the most stones.

Sadly, we have seen all too often this year, that right has been curtailed. Violence does work.

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