The Australian Press Council Has Responded To Bill Leak’s Controversial Cartoon

More than 700 complaints were lodged.

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Remember when The Australian published Bill Leak’s “satirical” cartoon depicting a drunk Aboriginal father unable to recall his son’s name? The cartoon attracted a massive amount of criticism, sparked the excellent #IndigenousDads hashtag and saw Bill Leak declared cartoonist of the year by his own employer.

Now the Australian Press Council, the body charged with “promoting good standards of media practice”, has revealed that it received over 700 complaints about the cartoon. The complaints came from individuals as well “leading Indigenous groups and peak associations”.

In order to determine whether or not the cartoon breached the standards of practice, the Council has to determine whether it caused ” offence, distress or prejudice” to some members of the community and wasn’t in the public interest.

In a statement responding to the complaints the Press Council’s Chair, Professor David Weisbrot, said “The Press Council understands and actively champions the notion that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the essential underpinnings of a liberal democracy.

“In light of the powerful public interest in a free and vigorous press, great deference is given to expressions of political opinion.” He argued that cartoonists deserve even greater “latitude” when it comes to freedom of speech, using the example  of the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ campaign in support of Charlie Hebdo.

The Press Council refused to outline whether or not it thought Leak’s cartoon was offensive or prejudiced. In the end they said that because The Australian eventually published two opinion pieces from Indigenous writers on the cartoon, the “complaints have been effectively resolved”. One of those opinion pieces, written by Gerry Moore, the Chief Executive of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, was only published yesterday. That kind of suggests The Australian wasn’t super interested in the “contest of ideas” until dragged to the table by the Press Council.

The Press Council’s lack of any kind of reprimand is likely to attract criticism from many of the original complainants. Judging by Leak’s award it doesn’t seem like anyone at The Australian thinks they have anything to apologise for.