TORONTO - Newspapers should take care not to print the swastika in a way that is offensive to those religions that revere it, the Ontario Press Council says in upholding a complaint against the Toronto Star.
Prakash Mody of Toronto complained that an artist's drawing used to illustrate an article about war crimes trials displayed the swastika in the style of a good luck symbol for a number of religions rather than that adopted by Nazi Germany.
He explained that the swastika revered by such faiths as Jains, Hindus and Buddhists is upright, its arms either vertical or horizontal, while the Nazi swastika is rotated 45 degrees.
Mody, a Jain representative on multifaith and interfaith committees, was accompanied at a Press Council hearing by a representative of the Canadian Council of Hindus.
Urging newspapers to take care to display the swastika properly, he said the version published with the Oct. 21, 1997 article was the second instance of misuse in recent years. The Star had received a letter he wrote in May 1995 about an illustration by the same artist.
The Star, in a letter to Mody, said it agreed that the swastika is a positive symbol of health, happiness and good fortune in some cultures and faiths, "But as you can appreciate, many in the West still view it as a powerful symbol of Nazi evil and oppression, not always realizing that Adolf Hitler misappropriated from Jain, Buddhist and Hindu peoples."
Suggesting the version used was "entirely appropriate," it said that although the artist didn't turn it "to the 45 degree angle as Hitler did for his notorious flag, his rendition is understandable to many who have grown used to seeing it depicted that way in offensive neo-Nazi scrawlings and graffiti."
It added that nine out of 10 people wouldn't know whether the symbol was wrongly or correctly drawn and noted that a book issued by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre showed a swastika used by skinhead neo-Nazis in the same upright form. It said the artist and Star editors had been told about the complaint but it questioned whether artists should be obligated to reproduce the swastika in a certain way.
Text of the adjudication:
Prakash Mody of Toronto complained about publication in the Toronto Star Oct, 21, 1997, of an illustration of a swastika purporting to be the emblem of Nazi Germany when in fact it was presented in a form that is a good-luck symbol for some religions. He explained that the Nazi swastika is correctly shown as rotated 45 degrees while the symbol used by such religions as Jains, Hindus and Buddhists is upright. Mody, a Jain representative on multifaith and interfaith committees, said the improper presentation hurt the feelings of many who regard the swastika as sacred.
The Ontario Press Council commends the Star for exploring controversies involving the swastika and other symbols, also for a Jan, 17 column that examined the issues raised by Mody. It believes it's important for newspapers to take care not to print the swastika in a way that is offensive to those religions that revere it.
The Council understands that many Canadians do not recognize the difference between the Nazi and other swastikas. But it notes that this was the second instance of misuse, the Star having received a letter from Mody in May 1995 drawing attention to a similar misrepresentation of the swastika. And it upholds the complaint.