Pressure mounts on Walkleys to sever fossil fuel ties

The Walkley Foundation is feeling the heat from a reignited conversation about its commercial relationship with fuel company Ampol, with leading editorial cartoonists withdrawing or refusing to enter this year’s awards in protest.

The recent conversation was sparked by a blog post from the Walkley-winning cartoonist Jon Kudelka, whose works appeared in publications including The Australian and The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Jon Kudelka. The Saturday Paper 12 August 2023. Reposted with artist’s permission.

Speaking to Mumbrella about this decision, Kudelka said it’s a very simple proposition: “If they’re going to be sponsored by a large fossil fuel company in 2023, while the world is falling apart, then I’m not going to get involved.”

The Walkley Foundation was established by Sir William Gaston Walkley, with the first awards presented in 1956. Sir William was one of the founders of Australian fuel company Ampol, and led the business for almost three decades in the middle of the last century.

Ampol remains one of the two platinum partners of the Walkley Foundation, with cartoonist Kudelka calling on the Foundation to distance itself from the company.

“What I would like to happen is for The Walkleys to not be sponsored by Ampol or any other fossil fuel company in the future, as simple as that,” Kudelka told Mumbrella.

“It’s no skin off my nose to not enter The Walkleys. It’s actually quite a nuisance, to be honest, because you need to write 500 words about your cartoon, which was excruciating.”

On his blog, he outlined his decision not to enter the awards after reading an opinion piece by Comms Declare founder Belinda Noble on Mumbrella.

“Whether this sponsorship influences journos or not, people seeing a bunch of allegedly well-informed media types hobnobbing on a fossil fuel company’s dime makes people think well they must think this isn’t so bad so maybe it isn’t (spoiler alert: it is),” he wrote.

The Walkley Foundation did not respond to emails or calls from Mumbrella.

Multiple renowned editorial cartoonists have now expressed solidarity by also backing out of this year’s Walkley Awards. These include The Guardian’s Andrew Marlton (better known by his pseudonym First Dog on the Moon), as well as David Rowe and Matt Golding, whose works respectively appear on Nine’s The Australian Financial Review and The Age.

Credit: Jon Kudelka. The Saturday Paper 23 July 2022. Reposted with artist’s permission.

Kudelka said he was genuinely surprised that so many people jumped on board. But also, he felt cartoonists aren’t as strongly “influenced by editors or publication and have a bit more autonomy”.

But as these things go, Kudelka said he also received “some vague annoyance” from a few unnamed parties.

“For me, this is something like making a decision to have a cup of coffee and have another cup of coffee. It’s a very simple thing,” he said.

“So I didn’t want to put pressure on other people to do it or not. If they want to, they can … But if they still want to enter [The Walkleys], I wasn’t going to jump up and down about it. ”

Mumbrella asked Nine whether its cartoonists boycotting the Walkleys would impact the company’s relationship with the Awards, or if there would be a broader boycott across Nine journalists. A Nine spokesperson said: “We don’t have a stance”.

Mumbrella also contacted Guardian Australia, which is one of the most outspoken publications in the country against fossil fuel advertising, but it was unable to provide a response prior to publishing. 


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