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Jurnal KomunikasiMalaysian Journal of Communication

Jilid 27(2): 77-95



Dafrizal , fariDah ibrahim & fauziah ahmaD universiti Kebangsaan malaysia

AbstractIn early 2006, the world was once again shaken by a global controversy. This time it was the act of a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten which had boldly published twelve controversial caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. There was a big outcry worldwide especially from the Muslim countries protesting on this act. Issues and debates were raised in the mass media and by many Muslim countries and their leaders, and without exception, Malaysia had joined in this worldwide protest. However, Malaysia had gone a step further in reprimanding the media which had joined in the league to publish the caricatures. Several newspapers were ordered to stop publishing and the editors were summoned to defend their actions. This study aims to see how the Malaysian mainstream media frame the controversial issue of the caricature of Prophet Muhammad.

Keywords: Controversial; caricature: Prophet Muhammad: framing; mainstream newspapers

Jurnal KomunikasiMalaysian Journal of CommunicationJilid 27(2): 77-95




AbstrakDi awal tahun 2006, dunia sekali lagi digegarkan oleh isu kontroversi. Kali ini adalah berkaitan dengan tindakan sebuah akhbar Denmark, Jyllands-Posten yang telah dengan berani menerbitkan dua belas karikatur Nabi Muhammad S.A.W yang dikatakan bersifat kontroversial. Ekoran dari peristiwa itu, seluruh dunia terutama dari Negara-negara Muslim bangkit menyampaikan bantahan mereka. Isu dan debat dilaungkan dalam media massa dan oleh para pemimpin serta rakyat Negara Islam, dan ini termasuklah Malaysia. Bagaimana pun, Negara Malaysia maju selangkah lagi dengan mengambil tindakan terhadap media tempatan yang turut menyiarkan atau menerbitkan karikatur tersebut. Beberapa akhbar diarah untuk berhenti penerbitan dan beberapa editor diminta oleh kerajaan untuk memberi penjelasan mengenai tindakan mereka menerbitkan karikatur tersebut. Kajian ini bertujuan meninjau bagaimana dua akhbar aliran perdana di Malaysia membingkai isu kontroversial mengenai karikatur Nabi Muhammad S.A.W ini.

Kata Kunci: Karikatur, kontroversi, Nabi Muhammad S.A.W, Pembingkaian, akhbar aliran perdana

IntroductionOn 30 September 2005, the world was shaken by a controversial action when Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten revealed twelve caricature sketches of Prophet Muhammad. This issue involving the publishing of the controversial caricature of Prophet Muhammad provides an illustrative evidence of how crises travel across geographical boundaries (Lindholm & Olsson 2011). The controversial caricature is seen as a global issue that triggered crises in countries throughout the world, especially in Denmark where there is a contradictory view between freedom of expression and intolerance (Shehata 2007). This issue again exploded in early February 2006, when the Western media aired the issue. To be specific, France and Germany reprinted the issue on February 1, 2006 (Miera and Pala 2009). Malaysian newspapers reported that there were 143 newspapers reprinted and published the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.

Framing Of Controversial Caricatures Of Prophet Muhammad: A Study Of Two Malaysian Mainstream Newspapers

Dafrizal , Faridah Ibrahim & Fauziah Ahmad


Most of the newspapers were from the Western countries, including 70 newspapers from Europe, 14 from the United States, 3 from Canada and New Zealand, 2 from Australia and 1 from Japan. The caricatures were also published in Muslim countries like Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco and Saudi Arabia (Utusan Malaysia, March 2, 2006). Malaysian newspapers that were involved in publishing the controversial caricature include among others, Utusan Malaysia, New Straits Times, Sarawak Tribune, Guang Ming Daily.

It is pertinent to realize to what extent the media is able to frame issues that can cause communication phenomenon across the globe, especially the propagation of controversial issues. Matters of this nature may invite researchers to explore phenomena reported by the mass media that is of concern at both national and international level. A few experts were involved in studying the controversial issue of caricature of Prophet Muhammad namely Douai (2007), Hussain (2007), Shehata (2007), Powers (2008), and Lindholm and Olsson (2011). The focus of their study varies in issues and aspects. For example, Douai (2007) studied on meta-narrative frame examined the thesis of clash of civilization and rising anti-Americanism in the case of the controversial Danish cartoon on the Middle Easts satellite television stations Al-Arabia and Al-Jazeera. In his research, he found that transgression seemed to be the overarching frame as compared to the framing of Clash of Civilizations which is less dominant. In a related matter, he found that media portrayal reflects the legitimize Muslim reaction to the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. The study of Powers (2008) which employed the approach of mediatized public crisis and strategic framing to scrutinize several ways in which the mainstream Western media constructed, performed, narrativized, and framed the Danish cartoon affair to specifically appeal to culturally problematic assumptions about Muslim society and culture. He found that Western mainstream media outlets drew heavily on Samuel Huntingtons clash of civilizations narrative, increasing public fear of Islamic culture, obscuring public understandings of the geopolitical and cultural realities underlying the affair, and further entrenching assumptions that have become barriers to productive cross-cultural dialogue.

Shehata (2007) examines the dynamics of official dominance and event-driven news from a comparative perspective, focusing on the Muhammad cartoons controversy in the Swedish and the American elite press. In his study, he uses a model of official dominance and event-driven news. One of the important results shows that intolerance frame is more dominant than freedom-of-speech frame in both the Swedish and the American elite press. Also, this research indicates that more active journalistic framing exists in the newspapers in Sweden. Hussain (2007) examines the role of centuries of European media self-censorship on the subject of Muhammad. From the historical perspective, this study shows that the editorial cartoonists in Western societies generally tend to reflect the views of the entire community. The international media from both East and West region frames the issue in the context of free speech and

Jurnal KomunikasiMalaysian Journal of CommunicationJilid 27(2): 77-95


religious sensitivity. On a similar note, Lindholm and Olsson (2011) maps out and examines

how the Danish Governments communication efforts made the Muhammad cartoon incident escalated into a full-blown crisis. His study showed that the Prophet Muhammad cartoon crisis travel across national and international geographical boundaries. The Danish government framed the voters in Denmark as stakeholders in the issue by taking a stance as an issue of free speech. From the perspective of communication strategies, the study revealed that the government turned the issue to be a matter of freedom of speech to create a dichotomy between good for the accepting countries, and otherwise oppressing freedom of speech labeled as bad countries.

The above researches showed that the trend of the dominant issues in the media debate following the case of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad is categorised to be clash of civilization, freedom of speech, religious sensitivity and intolerance. However, the differences in media systems, geographical boundaries conditions in which the media operated and the demography of the population majority, in terms of the traditional religious beliefs influence the frame of media coverage. For instance, Douais study (2007) found that the Arab media accentuate more on the frame of transgression, and give less attention to the frame of clash of civilization. The trend of Western media frame frequently tend to choose the frame of clash of civilization, freedom of speech and debate about the good vs. bad state (Powers 2008; Shehata 2007; Lindholm and Olsson 2011).

Discussions on media framing related to the controversial caricature issues of Prophet Muhammad are rarely discussed within the scope of Islamic countries, particularly in Malaysia. Therefore, this study aims to see the extent Malaysian mainstream media frame the controversial caricatures issue of Prophet Muhammad.

Malaysian Press policy In essence, mass media in Malaysia reflects the government policy and the voice of the society where they operate (Faridah Ibrahim 2003:57). This is because Malaysian media normally stands in line with the government leaders for the sake of continuation of political interest of the government, and to support the leaders power (Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani 2004). Newspapers and media practitioners are controlled by laws and regulations (Mohd Safar 2004) such as the Official Secret Act 1972, Sedition Act 1948, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (an amendment of The Printing Presses Ordinance of 1948), Defamation Act 1957, and Internal Security Act 1960 (Mohd Safar 2005; Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani 2004). In other words, Malaysian media policy is generally under the control of the government policy. Thus, the Malaysian mainstream newspapers are the voice of the government to preserve the governments political powe