The Otago Daily Times’ cartoon making light of the deadly Samoan measles crisis broke press guidelines, the New Zealand media council ruled. The cartoon, as iMediaEthics has reported, depicted two people leaving a travel agency saying the “least popular spots” are the ones in Samoa.
The media council received more than 130 complaints over the cartoon and reviewed five under its “fast-track process.” The Otago Daily Times‘ Barry Stewart told the council it received “more than 2,000 complaints and comments,” issued two apologies, and published reader criticism in its op-ed pages.
In addition, the paper has initiated new processes to prevent repeat incidents. According to the council, the Otago Daily Times now will have “the wider editorial team” instead of just one editor pick the cartoon each day, a “review of the processes that led to the cartoon’s publication,” and a promise not to publish the cartoonist in question until the review is over. The paper’s editor also has met with and apologized to local community members from Samoa, plans to have cultural awareness training, and acknowledged it should have apologized faster.
“The newspaper accepts the cartoon should not have been selected for the editorial page, and it understands why it caused such distress. It should not have been published,” the council reported. “The newspaper should have made its regret much clearer as soon as it understood the impact of its decision. It remains sorry for the regretful publication and is committed to setting things right, to ensure such lapses do not occur in the future. The newspaper wants to continue to hold a mirror to its community and understands it can only do so if it is reflective of the many communities it serves.”
For its part, the media coucil noted it “rarely” has upheld a ruling against a cartoon but found that the cartoon in question “has no redeeming qualities.”
“It was a play on use of the word ‘spots’. It was a weak attempt at humour. It was dependent for the joke on a measles epidemic that had cost the lives of 52 babies and children and 10 adults. It showed no human understanding of the dire situation Samoa was facing,” the council ruled.
The council also ruled the cartoon was “highly disciminatory” and “has a racist quality.”
“We find that the cartoon was gratuitously hurtful and discriminatory. Despite the very high bar that must be crossed before a complaint about an offensive cartoon will be upheld, that bar was crossed with this cartoon, and by a significant margin,” the council ruled. The council also called for the Otago Daily Times to release the review of its editorial processes when it’s completed.
The cartoonist, Garrick Tremain, told iMediaEthics earlier this month he stood by the cartoon.
iMediaEthics has written to the Otago Daily Times and Tremain for their responses.