Banning Political Cartoons by The New York Times; April 25, 2019. One of the world’s most influential media houses of the world, the New York Times, published a caricature in its international edition. A cartoon that depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog wearing a Star of David at his collar and leading a blind US President Donald Trump — who was wearing a kippah, or a Jewish skullcap.
As soon as the cartoon was published, there was an instant reaction worldwide- needless to mention a negative one- describing the cartoon’s anti-Semitic imagery, including in articles and editorials in the New York Times itself. To deal with all the chaos and, although it wasn’t mentioned directly anywhere, perhaps, passive pressure faced by the government- the paper decided to ban the publishing of all kinds of political cartoons in its international edition any further. Point to be mentioned here is that, the same type of publication has already been banned in the paper’s domestic edition years ago. This decision will lead to the terminating of its contracts with in-house cartoonists Heng Kim Song and the multi-award-winning Patrick Chappatte.
Now there are two points, not exactly different, of views here to be discussed regarding this banning. Firstly, the Star of David, along with the skullcap, does represent a Jewish association. From this point of view, the banning may make some sense; however, it doesn’t really stand as a logical punishment or a properly strategized decision taken by a major media house of the world. With this very statement, comes the second point of view i.e. if the caricature has nothing to do with a particular religion or community, which it doesn’t, then it is a mere political cartoon and by all means, sarcasm & satire & offense are considered the very core of political cartoon throughout the world. Banning this type of publication is clearly a sign of a broken backbone, especially for a media house of that status.
Journalists, cartoonists and all other media people are all agreed on the second point here. Cartoons are regarded as the best media to raise voice against anything not ‘fair’ in this society. Through cartoons, messages are easily conveyed and spread without speaking much, or anything at all. Almost all ages of the target audience can be easily reached through cartoons. And for these reasons, cartoonists are supposed to enjoy a certain amount of freedom while expressing their views through their art. On the other hand, there is also an equal amount of responsibility put upon the cartoonists when it comes to creating anything related to the real world. For example, if this particular caricature in the discussion was actually meant for the Jewish community then banning would not raise as many questions. In reality, however, there is much less freedom enjoyed by the cartoonists and it’s true for every media house in the world.
Banning Political Cartoons by The New York Times
A media house of the status like the New York Times has all the rights to take whatever actions and decisions it wishes to. But this kind of total banning of political cartoons from all its publications altogether is a far deeper attack on the ‘freedom of speech’ for the cartoonists. Cartoons have been the rude, taunting part of political commentary in countries around the world for centuries, and enhance newspapers globally and across the political spectrum, in countries from the most tolerant liberal democracies to the most vicious totalitarian tyrannies. As we all know, they consequently have the power to shock and offend- but not getting away without facing any consequences, especially in recent times.
In recent years, there have been many news & posts regarding the consequences faced by the cartoonists around the world when they have pushed it a little too much, especially regarding politics & politicians. The instances of this fact can be ranged from the Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart being in jail, the Malaysian cartoonist Zunar facing 43 years of imprisonment for sedition until a change of government last year, the murder of five cartoonists in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, the dozens of British cartoonists – including William Heath Robinson – being on the Gestapo death list.
“Cartoonists are like canaries in the coal mine – when they come for us, you know the politics are getting toxic.”
-Musa Kart, (at his trial)
But getting arrested or being on the hit list of a terrorist group is not all that is faced by the cartoonists for expressing their hearts out. In fact, the worst fear of the cartoonists is being ‘not supported’ by the very newspaper or other media houses they are working for; or worse, being totally abandoned by their employers. Whenever there’s a tough time faced by the press, the cartoonists are the very first employees to be got rid of. Take the auditing held during the 2000s in the newspapers when the very first actions taken were to fire the cartoonists. This means, it’s not the government or any other administrative entity to be blamed for this kind of harsh decision taken by the media house; it’s the very owners of those houses. Therefore, any kind of pressure- direct or indirect- is not responsible for the New York Times’ decision of banning all the political cartoons altogether.
While talking about this decision, the editor of the New York Times, ‘James Bennet’ said that the paper had planned for a year to cease running political cartoons in the international print version of the Times, in line with the US edition. He also said that the newspaper hoped to keep working with Chappatte and fellow contributor Heng- on other projects. Obviously, this decision hurt the cartoonists all over the world deeper than any cut. Especially, the ones to be got rid of straightaway as the result of this decision- Chappatte & Heng. Chappatte even took it to his personal website to express his grief regarding the matter:
“Over the last years, some of the very best cartoonists… lost their positions because their publishers found their work too critical of Trump. Maybe we should start worrying.”
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