Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Should a cartoonist apologise when readers complain his work is "insensitive and tasteless"?

Fourteen people died and as many as 200 others were injured in an explosion in a Texas town earlier this month.

Last week a newspaper published from Sacramento, the capital city of California, published this cartoon by Jack Ohman on its editorial pages:

Joshua Gillin, writing on Poynter, tells us that Ohman has said on his blog that he had received many complaints calling it (and him) “insensitive and tasteless” and pointed out he had drawn much more graphic images in the past to make his points.

I knew it was close to the edge, but I went with it, and I don’t go with things I can’t defend. I’m defending this one because I think that when you have a politician travelling across the country selling a state with low regulatory capacity, that politician also has to be accountable for what happens when that lack of regulation proves to be fatal.

Ohman also writes on his blog that when he has to come up with these ideas, he is not deliberately trying to be tasteless. He continues:

What I am trying to do is make readers think about an issue in a striking way. I seem to have succeeded in this cartoon, one way or the other.

The question is whether it is tasteless or not.

My answer, respectfully, is that it isn't.

Read Ohman's blog post here to understand how to defend brilliantly and pithily the seemingly indefensible: 'Explosion' cartoon published to make a point.
  • Sherry M Jacob-Phillips (Class of 2007), who is a journalist in Bangalore, commented via e-mail:
    I found Jack Ohman's cartoon strip a tad insensitive, but the message was clear. Hence, it served the purpose. But where is the need for him to apologise? The cartoonist is not making any assumptions here; instead, he is sketching an independent analysis of the situation. If writers can express every note that lingers in their mind, then why prevent cartoonists from doing so? Ohman justifies his stance by writing that he is trying to make people think about an issue in a striking way. This is the best way by which one can measure the levels of press freedom a country enjoys. If you fear such cartoons, then just stay away from them.

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