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Mark Knight’s Serena Williams cartoon cleared by press watchdog

A controversial Mark Knight cartoon depicting Serena Williams on a tennis court with a broken tennis racquet and pacifier has been cleared by the press watchdog.

The Herald Sun’s cartoon from September 10, which referred to an incident during a tennis match between Williams and Naomi Osaka, received international coverage and scrutiny by outlets and celebrities including author J K Rowling.

The cartoon did not breach Press Council guidlines

At the time, News Corp Australia’s executive chairman, Michael Miller, said the world had become too “PC [politically correct]”.

“Criticism of Mark Knight’s Serena Williams cartoon shows the world has gone too PC & misunderstands the role of news media cartoons and satire. Poor behaviour in any sport needs to be called out,” Miller said at the time.

Criticism of Mark Knight's Serena Williams cartoon shows the world has gone too PC & misunderstands the role of news…

Posted by Michael Miller on Monday, 10 September 2018

The press watchdog received a number of complaints which raised concerns over the ‘offensive’ and ‘sexist representation’ of Williams, and a ‘prejudicial racial stereotype’ of African-American people.

“Specifically, concern was expressed that the cartoon depicted Ms Williams with large lips, a broad flat nose, a wild afro-styled ponytail hairstyle different to that worn by Ms Williams during the match and positioned in an ape-like pose,” the Press Council wrote.

“Ms Williams’ features contrasted with those of Ms Osaka who, while of Japanese-Haitian descent, is depicted as white with blonde hair, lacking any particularly distinguishing or exaggerated features. It was also noted that the cartoon should be considered in the context of the history of caricatures based on race and historical racist depictions of African Americans.”

The publication argued the cartoon depicted the “outburst” of Williams on court at the US Open final on September 9. It said it wanted to capture the tantrum using satire, caricature, exaggeration and humour, and the cartoon intended to depict her as childish. The Herald Sun said it had no intention of depicting any race or gender negatively.

The Council accepted the publisher’s claim it did not depict Williams as an ape, but rather showed her as ‘spitting the dummy’, ‘a non-racist caricature familiar to most Australian readers’.

“Nonetheless, the Council acknowledges that some readers found the cartoon offensive,” it said in a ruling. “However, the Council also accepts that there was a sufficient public interest in commenting on behaviour and sportsmanship during a significant dispute between a tennis player with a globally high profile and an umpire at the US Open final.

“As such, the Council does not consider that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice, without sufficient justification in the public interest.”

The Press Council did not uphold the complaints.

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