One of Australia’s most successful cartoonists has been taken off the Monday front page for creating editorial cartoons critical of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and the state’s Covid health orders.
“The way it was done was rude. It was a pretty blunt, discourteous and frustrating way to have a half-century of editorial cartooning at The Age brought to an end,” said Leunig of his cancellation. “My greatest dismay in all of this is the wretched state of cartooning and humour in The Age. It’s as if they want to destroy or subjugate cartooning.”
Michael Leunig, who was declared an ‘Australian Living Treasure’ by the National Trust of Australia in 1999, has found himself in hot water over a series of cartoons that highlighted the authoritative nature of the Victorian Covid response.
The Age rejected a (now viral) cartoon which directly compared Victoria's mandatory vaccination policy with the Tiananmen Square ‘Tank Man’ incident.
Leunig’s cartoon, which was self-published on his website, depicted a tank with a needle in place of the main gun and a person standing in front of it. The cartoon implied that vaccines were a form of tyranny against the people perpetrated by a powerful government directive. It is a belief arguably shared by thousands of protesters on Melbourne's streets during the pandemic.
“Gay [the editor] feels this type of cartoon is not in line with public sentiment, and The Age’s readership, who it does seem are largely in favour of the Andrews Covid narrative. But my job is to challenge the status quo, and that has always been the job of the cartoonist.”
When the cartoon emerged, it caused a storm of controversy on Twitter where the #IStandWithDan hashtag filled with condemnation.
Tiananmen Square has long stood as a symbol of defiance against authoritarian regimes. Leunig says that he saw parallels to the situation in Melbourne which has become the most locked-down city in the world where thousands of Australians face the sack if they refuse to get vaccinated. Premier Daniel Andrews warned Victorians in a press conference last week that the unvaccinated would be locked out of the economy and their rights until at least mid-2022.
“The Tiananmen Square image is often used in cartoons around the world as a Charlie Chaplin-like metaphor for overwhelming force meeting the innocent powerless individual. In my view, it is a fair enough issue to raise in the most locked-down city in the world,” said Leunig, according to The Australian.
He went on to explain that The Age’s editor Gay Alcorn believes his anti-government cartoons are ‘too out of step with readers’ and further claims that he has had 12 cartoons censored that featured Covid, Daniel Andrews or both with ‘no explanation’ from The Age.
“I do understand that a newspaper must be free to control its content and refuse to publish pieces as it reasonably sees fit. I have had cartoons censored during my 55 years of editorial cartooning and have always had the reasons for rejection explained to me by editors in intelligent, respectful ways. It is not rejection that bothers me. It’s the wokeism and the humourlessness, which seem without courage, good spirit or creative imagination.”
The Age does not contest that Leunig’s cartoons have been pulled from the publication, with Alcorn releasing a confirmation.
“I have pulled multiple cartoons by Leunig, almost entirely on the grounds that they expressed an anti-vaccination sentiment. We don’t mind cartoonists challenging the readers. We encourage diversity of thought, but I had a concern with cartoons perceived as anti-vaccination.”
The Age is trialling new cartoonists for the front page.
“The paper’s motto is ‘Independent. Always.’ But is it truly independent?” asked Leunig.