If controversial cartoon had been rejected by the ODT, there would be no baying for Tremain’s blood

Newspaper staff were among those to express dismay and fury during the frenzy of denunciations that followed publication of an ill-considered cartoon about Samoa and the measles epidemic.

The Spinoff recorded their reactions under the heading ODT cartoonist infuriates his colleagues with Sāmoa measles epidemic ‘joke’.

It also reproduced the highly controversial cartoon (just in case readers didn’t know what the fuss was about?) while reporting:

An Otago Daily Times cartoonist who saw humour in the deadly Samoan measles epidemic has found himself at odds with both colleagues and his editors.

As most if not all other media have done, it proceeded to repeat the joke:  a Garrick Tremain cartoon in the ODT depicted two women leaving a travel agency. One asked the other what the “least popular spots” to visit right now were, and the other responded with “the ones people are picking up in Samoa.”

Criticism on social media has been fierce and widespread.

 The death toll in Samoa’s measles outbreak by then had risen to 55, with most of the victims being children under four years old.

The Spinoff reiterated the cartoonist’s initial response:

Speaking to RNZ’s First Up this morning, Tremain said a public apology to the Samoan nation wasn’t necessary, and that it was a “simple, light-hearted joke.” He said he was aware that many had been offended by the cartoon, and questioned the relevance of the fact the most of the deaths had been children. He said he had not anticipated the reaction, and admitted that it was a “very poor piece of timing.”

“I can later regret having done it, but at the time obviously that did not occur to me. I thought it was an innocuous joke that didn’t mention anything about deaths or children, or things that everyone else seems to be so concerned about.” He also criticised a “politically correct atmosphere” that was “suffocating”, and suggested that there are people who wake up every morning looking for something to be offended by.

The Spinoff then turned to the reactions of Tremain’s colleagues at the ODT.

At least three staffers went public with criticisms against the publication of the cartoon.

Journalist Chris Morris, who has worked at the paper for more than 15 years, said on twitter that he has “never been more upset to see the good work of so many committed, caring journos dragged through the mud like this. That cartoon, and that cartoonist, does not reflect our newsroom. Publishing it was the wrong thing to do.”

Let’s repeat the critical bit of that paragraph:

“Publishing it was the wrong thing to do.”

The Spinoff report went on to say:

Other staffers also expressed anger at the cartoon being published. Director of Video News Tim Miller tweeted that while he and other staffers can’t speak on behalf of the wider paper, “what I can say is our reporters go into work each day wanting to tell the stories of our community. The fact this cartoon was published not only disappoints us but makes us angry. We will do everything we can so this never happens again.”

And reporter Daisy Hudson said that the cartoon didn’t reflect the attitudes of the wider newsroom. “If you have a complaint to make, please make it. But please don’t threaten reporters and editorial staff who have no input into the opinion page.”

This makes plain that Tremain’s conceiving the cartoon was not what triggered public outrage.

Nor was his drawing and submitting the cartoon.

The trigger was  publication of the cartoon, notwithstanding Tremain’s subsequent  apology on his website – he said the cartoon should not have been put forward for publication and acknowledged “the lack of judgement on my part”.

The ODT has published an apology (a second apology) under the headline “We got it wrong”.

“On Tuesday, we published a cartoon that now defies description. It was clearly significantly more than crass and insensitive. It was deeply offensive and it continues to cause significant distress,” the editorial said.

The newspaper has changed how it selects each cartoon, which was previously the responsibility of the editor, Barry Stewart.

“Our daily cartoons will now be considered and debated by our broader editorial team,” the paper’s apology said

Dunedin City councillor Marie Laufiso said the cartoon was not a reflection on the reporters, but on the editorial judgment of the newspaper. 

But many people in the baying mob who protested outside the ODT building on Wednesday were demanding the cartoonist’s resignation.

Protester Sina Brown-Davis said she was disgusted by the cartoon, and called the apology “half-baked”. She planned to target advertisers if Tremain was not fired.

They may well get the head they are baying for.  Tremain has been stood down.

Someone at Stuff questioned Stewart about previous insensitive Tremain cartoons.

He replied

“We’ve had issues”.

But Stuff’s judgement on what constitutes acceptable cartooning is a moot point.

This week it published a cartoon depicting ACT leader David Seymour being kissed on the ears by Adolf Hitler and (apparently) David Duke from the Ku Klux Klan.

We may suppose this reflects cartoonist Sharon Murdoch’s bizarre view of Seymour’s advocacy of free speech.

If you champion freedom of speech, you are a Nazi leader and/or racist, in other words.

Yet the Nazis burned books, controlled the press, denied Germans the right to speak freely and murdered dissidents.

But Murdoch didn’t publish the cartoon.  Stuff did that..


2 thoughts on “If controversial cartoon had been rejected by the ODT, there would be no baying for Tremain’s blood

  1. The solution is to do away with all of these unfunny old men with mean spirited opinions practicing an archaic art form, and replace the section with a meme of the day. It wouldn’t be hard. Just have a standard rejection letter that said “ok boomer”.

    Or better still bring back Bogor and Footrot Flats.


  2. We all understand “sticks and stones will break bones ….but words will never hurt you” A cartoon will not kill babies but NON vaccination will. Time to reflect against the anti vaccination brigade , Not a cartoonist.


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