- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2006

BRUSSELS — A senior European Union official yesterday proposed a European press charter that would commit journalists to “prudence” when reporting on Islam and other religions.

Franco Frattini, the European Union commissioner for justice, freedom and security, revealed the idea for a code of conduct in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

Mr. Frattini, a former Italian foreign minister, said the European Union faced the “very real problem” of trying to reconcile “two fundamental freedoms, the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion.”

Millions of European Muslims felt “humiliated” by the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, he said, calling on journalists to accept that “the exercising of a right is always the assumption of a responsibility.”

Mr. Frattini appealed to European journalists to agree to “self-regulate.” Such a move would send an important political message to the Muslim world, he said.

By agreeing to a charter, “the press will give the Muslim world the message: we are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression, we can and we are ready to self-regulate that right,” he said.

The code of conduct, as envisaged by Mr. Frattini, would acknowledge the importance of respecting religious sensibilities, but would not offer a “privileged” status to any one faith.

The European Commission has long had ambitions to introduce European Union-wide legislation on fighting racism and xenophobia, but has seen them founder amid resistance from national governments.

Mr. Frattini said he was keen to move ahead with a voluntary code of conduct, to be drawn up by European press outlets with the assistance of the commission. The code would not have the status of an EU legal instrument and would not be enforceable by EU institutions.

Instead, he said, the commission would play the role of “political facilitator” as journalists and editors draw up their own charter.

Mr. Frattini, who plans meetings with Muslim leaders and European press, broadcasting and newspaper publishers’ associations, asked journalists to take greater account of the political, cultural and diplomatic “context” in which they were planning to publish.

He said the recent republication of the Muhammad cartoons by more than a dozen newspapers in Europe and further afield had been “imprudent,” because the situation in the Middle East and the Muslim world was unusually tense.

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