Readers are upset over a cartoon in daily newspaper The Australian about indigenous people. The cartoon by Bill Leak pictures a policeman telling a man to “talk to your son about personal responsibility” and the man, holding a can, saying “yeah righto what’s his name then?”
The Australian Press Council doesn’t typically release the number of complaints it receives but a spokesperson told iMediaEthics it’s in the process of handling complaints.
The Australian has a daily circulation of about 100,000 on weekdays and is based in Sydney.
Leak has been The Australian‘s cartoonist for 22 years, the newspaper’s managing editor Helen Trinca told iMediaEthics by e-mail. She provided iMediaEthics with Australian editor-in-chief Paul Whittaker’s statement standing by Leak’s cartoon, which reads:
“The Australian is proud of its long-standing and detailed contribution to our national debate over the crucial issues in Indigenous affairs. The current controversy over juvenile detention in the Northern Territory has lifted these matters to the forefront of national attention again. Too often, too many people skirt around the root causes and tough issues. But not everyone.
“This week on Lateline Noel Pearson said: ‘Blackfellas have got to take charge and take responsibility for their own children … That part of the message really struggles to get traction.’ In our pages Marcia Langton said: ‘Instead of talking about personal agency, these people talk about self-determination. It drowns out any message about personal agency.’ Bill Leak’s confronting and insightful cartoons force people to examine the core issues in a way that sometimes reporting and analysis can fail to do.”
Leak also responded to criticism of his cartoon in a column for the paper that reads in part: “The cartoon I drew for yesterday’s paper was inspired by indigenous men and people who, without regard for their personal safety, feel compelled to tell the truth whether it incites the CTAD sufferers to attack them en masse or not. It’s their prescriptions for improving the lives of Aboriginal Australians that inform my own understanding of the subject.”
Paul Kelly, editor-at-large, wrote in an Aug. 6 column remarking that people are encouraging complaints, whereas he suggested people should do something about the problem instead. “A cartoonist who offends no one is a cartoonist who doesn’t deserve a job,” he added.
Further, the newspaper also published an editorial standing by the cartoon, which it said was “meant to confront” via “grim humour.”
“The cartoon points to broken families, the self-perpetuating cause of so much indigenous misery,” the editorial states. “One great obstacle to improvement is the progressive tendency to look away from awkward truths; to prefer their moral vanity over better outcomes for others; and to expend energy on policing “incorrect” commentary rather than championing needed reforms. This erects a shield of unreality around indigenous affairs. Sometimes, it takes a stark image such as Mr Leak’s cartoon to pierce the shield. The effect is to galvanise debate and mobilise opinion for change.”
National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples’s co-chair Rod Little said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp., “I think the cartoon is totally offensive. I think the defence is typical of ingrown prejudice and racism throughout this nation.”
NGO SNAICC said the cartoon was “disgusting, disrespectful, and hurtful” as well as “clearly racist” and called for an apology, according to the BBC. The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council said The Australian should “accept personal responsibility for the hurt they have caused Aboriginal people today.”
In addition to angry readers, advertiser Suncorp Bank wants to “remove our advertising from this content,” Mumbrella reported. Suncorp Bank’s Alexandra Foley told iMediaEthics by e-mail, “We have removed our advertising from the content, and have temporarily suspended any future placements.” The Australian declined to comment on this.