The West Australian issues front-page apology for publishing ‘abhorrent’ racist cartoon

Seven West Media newspaper The West Australian has issued a front-page apology for publishing a racist cartoon in Monday’s edition that the editor-in-chief has called “abhorrent”.

The Modesty Blaise cartoon strip was written in 1981, and features racial stereotypes and slurs about First Nations people. It was published because a third-party agency composes the newspaper’s comics page through an automated process, which was not checked.

The West Australian conducted a review into the “mistake”, has re-established an in-house checking process to “ensure this type of offensive material is not published again”, and will no longer publish Modesty Blaise cartoons.

In an initial statement, the newspaper said the cartoon “contained offensive racial stereotypes that have no place in our newspaper”, but did not specifically say ‘sorry’.

“It’s the very kind of marginalisation and bigotry The West Australian and its reporters have been trying to stamp out,” the newspaper said.

In today’s front page apology, editor-in-chief Anthony De Ceglie said: “We are deeply sorry and we apologise for any hurt that cartoon has caused”.

The apology [Click to enlarge]

“Racism has sadly been pervasive in this country because it has been casualised for too long. Even when a company or a government body or an individual is trying hard to stamp it out, it can still seep through because its spread was, and still is, so far-reaching,” he said.

“In Monday’s newspaper, The West Australian published a Modesty Blaise cartoon that contained offensive racial stereotypes and slurs we consider abhorrent.

“It does not reflect this newspaper’s editorial stance in any way and we are especially aghast because we feel our current team has worked hard to report on racial injustice in a mature and sensible manner while uncovering marginalisation and holding it to account wherever we can.”

This month, the newspaper’s journalist Annabel Hennessy was named the 2020 Young Australian Journalist of the Year for her investigation ‘Kill or Be Killed?: The First Chapter: The incarceration of Jody Gore’. The report investigated the imprisonment of an Aboriginal woman who was convicted of killing her abusive ex-partner.

De Ceglie added that the masthead has been in touch with the third-party company that composes the comics page to “express our deep concerns”. That company told the newspaper it has also conducted an immediate review.

“The West Australian has also decided it will no longer publish Modesty Blaise. The comic strip had been running for 48 years since 1972 , but it no longer has a place in the pages of The West Australian nor does it reflect our company’s culture or values under my watch,” De Ceglie concluded.

Multiple media companies have had to similarly reckon with racist reporting recently, along with an ongoing lack of racial diversity. News Corp published a column which said “the greatest danger to aboriginals and n*groes is themselves”.

Almost 70 journalists at The Age signed a letter sent to Nine executives after the newspaper was forced to make two apologies for a story which included an unsubstantiated allegation that Black Lives Matter protesters were planning to spit on police, and an editorial which incorrectly claimed Australia does not have a history of slavery. As part of that sequence of events, the masthead’s editor, Alex Lavelle, exited.

And this week, a number of former Indigenous staff members at SBS detailed experiences of racism at the broadcaster, leading to SBS journalists writing to management yesterday to call for leadership diversity, as revealed by The Guardian.


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