Belgian newspaper De Morgen apologized for doctoring photos to show Barack and Michelle Obama as apes. De Morgen is a Dutch-language daily newspaper in Brussels.
The photo montages were published March 22 on a satire page “The Obama Herald,” according to Al Jazeera. According to English-language news website for Flemish broadcaster VRT Flanders News, “The Obama Herald” page also included “fictitious tweets by Obama, some articles and also a cartoon” and said Vladimir Putin sent the ape photo.
De Morgen‘s political editor Bart Eeckhout, who wrote the newspaper’s apology statement, told iMediaEthics by e-mail that the satirical page was part of a “12 page special issue on President Obama, with interviews and reports on his policies and his role in history.” The newspaper runs a weekly satirical page “which is set apart from our serious reporting by its layout and header,” he explained.
He wrote, “We completely understand the outrage that was caused by the failed attempt of satire that was published in our newspaper. We take full responsibility and apologise for any grief caused by our mistake.”
According to Eeckhout, the newspaper is a “progressive, ‘liberal’ newspaper” that has publicly stood against “racism and all kinds of discrimination,” and because of that reputation, the editors thought the image was OK to publish. “Because our readers know our firm position, we thought the joke would pass, in the context I explained here, as a way of satirizing the utter stupidity of racism. That was a big mistake.”
Eeckhout apologized yet again for the photo to iMediaEthics, writing that the paper was trying to mock Vladimir Putin. “The joke wasn’t even supposed to be on Mr Obama but on Vladimir Putin,” he stated. “We pretended that it was Putin who sent in the doctored pictures (the joke being: this is how racists think…). But the joke backfired badly.”
Despite that explanation, Eeckhout said the newspaper is “very sorry” for this incident. “This explanation is in no way a justification,” he wrote. “We made a mistake. We are very sorry. End of the line.”
Writer Chika Unigwe had questioned the image on Twitter.
— chika unigwe (@chikaunigwe) March 22, 2014
News site Joop.nl published the full satirical page. De Morgen’s Eeckhout confirmed the image is the satirical page.
The apology is published in Dutch on the newspaper’s website. It was headlined, “Is De Morgen racist?” According to a Google translate of the apology, the newspaper called it an “admittedly tasteless joke.”
De Morgen claimed the photo was a “tasteless joke” and acknowledged there was a lot of negative reaction to the image on Twitter.
“When you consider the fragment apart from its context, which is a properly worked out satirical section, then you don’t see the joke but just a picture evoking sheer racism. That was a risk we didn’t consider enough beforehand,” the apology said, according to Flanders News’ translation.
It went on, “In this case, we plead guilty of bad taste. We continue to be on the side of those that are battling any form of racism. Don’t hesitate to contact us if we would go too far on a different occasion.”
The apology was published on page 2 of the print edition, according to Flanders News.
Obama is visiting Belgium this week.
Hat TIp: Ethical Journalism Network
UPDATED 3/24/2014 6:15 PM EST: Updated with additional information including comments from De Morgen