Press Council Lets The Australian Off The Hook For “Racist” Bill Leak Cartoon

Press Council Lets The Australian Off The Hook For “Racist” Bill Leak Cartoon
SHARE
THIS



The Australian Press Council has decided on a course of action following the massive 700+ complaints it received over The Australian’s Bill Leak cartoon which negatively portrayed Indigenous fathers.

The cartoon, which was followed by another controversial cartoon the next day, and which The Oz defended vigorously, appeared in The Oz on August 4 this year, allegedly in response to the horrific treatment of children in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Correctional Centre.

The cartoon portrayed an Aboriginal police officer holding a young man by his shirt collar, saying “You’ll have to sit down and talk to your son about personal responsibility” to an Aboriginal man holding a beer can, who replies “Yeah, righto – what’s his name then”.

This provoked a shitstorm of criticism, from being labelled “racist”, “garbage”, “discriminatory” and “disgraceful”, while The Oz claimed, “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”.

But despite the backlash and public outcry, the Press Council said the best outcome in the public interest is “to promote free speech and the contest of ideas”, citing the “Je suis Charlie” campaign, which started after a terrorist attack in Paris killed a number of journalists and cartoonists, and held the tradition of satire and cartooning as imperative for a democratic society.

The Press Council concluded that, after speaking to both major complainants and the newspaper itself, the best outcome would be for The Oz to publish two major op-ed pieces that provide “Indigenous perspectives on the cartoon and shed light on the underlying issues”.

And you can read these two op-ed pieces, published August 31 and September 5, here.

The release wrapped up by saying, “With the agreement by The Australian to publish these items prominently, we believe that the complaints have been effectively resolved through an appropriate remedy, and no further action will be taken by the Press Council.”

You can read the statement in full here:

“The Australian published a cartoon by Bill Leak on 4 August 2016, apparently in response to the revelations about the horrific treatment of children in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Correctional Centre. The cartoon portrayed an Aboriginal police officer holding a young man by his shirt collar, saying “You’ll have to sit down and talk to your son about personal responsibility” to an Aboriginal man holding a beer can, who replies “Yeah, righto – what’s his name then”.

This provoked extremely strong reactions in the general community and in the media, including condemnations of the cartoon and online petitions describing it as “disgraceful”, “insulting”, and “discriminatory”, among other things. A social media meme under the hashtag #IndigenousDads went viral, with Indigenous people sharing photos and stories about their families and the positive influence of their fathers on their lives.

The publication was also strongly defended by others, citing the overriding importance of free speech and freedom of the press. The Australian released a statement saying “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”. Many journalists, media commentators and other political cartoonists expressed their considerable unease with the particular cartoon, yet ultimately concluded that, in the interests of free speech, it should not be formally censured.

The Australian Press Council—the body responsible for establishing Standards of Practice for print and online publications and for handling complaints in this area—received over 700 complaints about the cartoon, mainly from individuals but also from leading Indigenous groups and peak associations.

Under the Council’s Standards of Practice (General Principle 6), the key question is whether the publication “took reasonable steps” to “avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest”.

It is relatively straightforward for the Council to determine whether a publication has taken reasonable steps to ensure accuracy. It is much more fraught to determine whether an expression of opinion that has palpably caused offence to some members of the community is nevertheless sufficiently in the public interest.

The Press Council understands and actively champions the notion that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the essential underpinnings of a liberal democracy, ensuring that citizens are able to hold powerful individuals and interests accountable, and to promote the contest of ideas that best enables sound policymaking, good government and a strong and open society.

In light of the powerful public interest in a free and vigorous press, great deference is given to expressions of political opinion. Longstanding tradition dictates that satire and cartooning should be afforded even greater latitude, which is why the “Je suis Charlie” campaign, which started after a terrorist attack in Paris killed a number of journalists and cartoonists, resonated so powerfully around the world.

When the Press Council receives a complaint, its processes are geared towards providing an appropriate remedy. This may involve a correction or an apology; the publication of a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece, or in a small proportion of cases a formal adjudication determining whether a publication has breached the Standards of Practice.

Balancing all of these considerations, and after consulting with key complainants, the Press Council considers that the best outcome in the public interest is to promote free speech and the contest of ideas through the publication of two major op-ed pieces in The Australian, providing Indigenous perspectives on the cartoon and shedding light on the underlying issues.

With the agreement by The Australian to publish these items prominently, we believe that the complaints have been effectively resolved through an appropriate remedy, and no further action will be taken by the Press Council.

We thank all of the complainants for their interest in maintaining media standards, and the editors of The Australian for their cooperative and constructive approach in this matter.”

 

Please login with linkedin to comment

Latest News

Australia Is Diverse… Does Your Brand Have An Inclusive Digital Presence?
  • Marketing
  • Opinion

Australia Is Diverse… Does Your Brand Have An Inclusive Digital Presence?

As Australia continues to grow and the population becomes more ethnically diverse, it is important that marketers ensure digital environments are more inclusive, especially for those who don’t speak English as a first language, writes Siteimprove’s Haley Doel (pictured below). Having a readable and accessible website is no longer just a high priority for large […]

Opinion

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
**FILE*** A Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010 file photo the Sydney Head Office of Network Ten in Pyrmont, Sydney. Network Ten's Wake Up program and its early, morning and late news will be axed from Friday. (AAP Image/Lee Besford) NO ARCHIVING
  • Advertising
  • Media

Network Ten And MCN Reaffirm Sales Agreement Following CBS Sale

Network Ten and Multi Channel Network (MCN) have today reaffirmed that the sales representation agreement, which sees MCN manage the advertising interests for TEN, ELEVEN, ONE and the online catch-up streaming platform tenplay, will continue. Since the agreement was made in 2015, the Network Ten and MCN trading relationship has been an outstanding success. In […]

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Pepsi MAX Teams Up With PHD & Time Out For New Data-driven Campaign
  • Advertising
  • Campaigns

Pepsi MAX Teams Up With PHD & Time Out For New Data-driven Campaign

Pepsi MAX has partnered with PHD and Time Out to not only inspire Australians, but also enhance their ability to ‘MAX’ out their summer this year. Through the use of a live dynamic data feed, consumers will be served ads by the brand on events taking place around them that are relevant to their personal […]

AI – To Join It Or To Beat It
  • Media
  • Opinion

AI – To Join It Or To Beat It

I'm afraid we can't let you read this piece Dave! That's a joke about A Space Odyssey 2001, young B&T readers.

Opinion

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
AnalogFolk Opens In Shanghai
  • Advertising

AnalogFolk Opens In Shanghai

AnalogFolk has opened in Shanghai and, as B&T's trusty Funk & Wagnalls atlas tell us, is somewhere near Wollongong.