ADC Chairman speaks to AFR Editor-in-Chief and welcomes apology for Frydenberg cartoon

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Following the publication in the Australian Financial Review of David Rowe’s editorial cartoon last Saturday, June 6th, Dr Dvir Abramovich, ADC Chairman, communicated directly with newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Michael Stutchbury.

Dr Abramovich conveyed his grave concerns and the concerns of the many people who contacted the ADC, expressing their outrage at the way Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was depicted.

Today, following several lengthy conversations between Dr Abramovich and Mr Stutchbury, the AFR issued the following apology and statement.

In response Dr Dvir Abramovich, Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission said:

“Over the last few days, The ADC has been in close contact with the leadership of the AFR  to discuss this troubling matter.

I am pleased that Michael Stutchbury took to heart ours and the community’s outrage and has made an apology for the offense caused, acknowledging that this cartoon was hurtful for many and contained tropes and images that in our opinion were rightly interpreted as offensive.

We understand that the newspaper takes a different view, contending that the cartoon consisted of no Jewish references.

We accept the Editor-in-Chief’s assurance that there is no deep institutional prejudice in the AFR and that this was not a wilful act of antisemitism by Mr Rowe.

Still, there are lessons to be learnt from this episode, primarily the need by editors to be more aware of the history of antisemitic cartoons and to ensure that age-old bigotry is not given new life in the pages of their publication.

This is an important conversation that we need to have in the public square.

The ADC has also offered to run for the staff of AFR a workshop on antisemitism, including a comprehensive outline of hateful stereotypes, caricatures, symbols and myths that still endure today.

I am glad that Mr Stutchbury has indicated that he would be receptive to our offer.

We also recommend that the AFR review its policies so as to ensure that such cartoons are not published again or that editors are informed and sensitive enough to the issue to say, “This depiction does not look quite right” if a similar situation recurs.

At a time when anti-Semitism is surging, it is vital that anti-Jewish slurs and sketches are not normalised and mainstreamed in any newspaper, or go unnoticed by those charged with drawing or printing cartoons.

After all, we expect our respected newspapers to be part of the solution, not add to the problem.”


AFR amends, defends, apologises for criticised cartoon

Jun 8, 2020 – 5.30pm

The Australian Financial Review’s David Rowe has adjusted a cartoon after complaints that it depicted the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in an anti-Semitic trope.

Both Rowe and the Financial Review apologise for unintended hurt and offence caused by the cartoon published in last weekend’s AFR Weekend.

The amended cartoon

At the same time, the Financial Review and Rowe maintain that the cartoon contained no Jewish references, even though they understood why some readers had interpreted the imagery differently.

As a masthead, the Financial Review abhors anti-Semitism, from whatever part of the political spectrum and celebrates the contribution of people of Jewish faith and background to modern Australia, especially to modern Australian business.

Rowe and the Financial Review’s editor in chief Michael Stutchbury agreed the imagery around the depiction of Mr Frydenberg, however interpreted, was of no consequence to the meaning of the cartoon, which was an anti-racist “black lives matter” commentary.

It would be perverse if a non-essential part of a cartoon that raised complaints of unintended racism ended up censoring a cartoon designed to make an anti-racist commentary.

That led to the unusual decision to accordingly amend the cartoon online. The cartoon published on the weekend’s editorial and opinion pages explicitly drew on the Emanuel Phillips Fox painting of Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay in 1770.

It depicted Scott Morrison as Cook in front of a flag emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” and an image of the coronavirus. It played on Mr Morrison’s suggestion that Black Lives Matter protesters should find a better way to protest than gathering in large numbers in spite of social distancing restrictions.

Mr Frydenberg was depicted as the young male character holding a gun to the right of Mr Morrison’s Cook.

Those who have complained about the cartoon say the Jewish Mr Frydenberg was depicted wearing a Jewish yarmulke cloth cap, with a hooked nose reminiscent of negative racial stereotypes of Jews stretching back centuries and holding a dollar sign that reinforces greedy and crooked Jewish stereotypes.

Stutchbury says he fully accepted Rowe’s alternative explanation of the imagery. In the drawing process, Rowe replaced the red hair of the young male character with the “sailors’ cloth cap” of a similar young male further to the right. At the time, he figured that the red hair would make it more difficult to identify the character as the balding Frydenberg.

Close examination shows the knotted tail of the cloth cap which distinguishes it from a yarmulke.

The “hooked nose” is Rowe’s particular caricature style that he uses for many faces including for John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott, Bronwyn Bishop, Julie Bishop, Donald Trump, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and, in the weekend cartoon in dispute, Christian Porter. That comes with a loose and fast drawing style.

Working for a business and financial newspaper, Rowe has used dollar sign imagery for many people, especially for treasurers and businessmen.

In the cartoon concerned, it also appeared on the backs of red-coated English characters and helped signify Mr Frydenberg’s position as Treasurer.

Having all three issues pointed out, Rowe said he understood why this had upset some people and apologised for any hurt that this had unintentionally caused.

Rowe’s amended cartoon, republished on on Monday, removes the cloth cap on the Frydenberg character’s head and changes his nose, but retains the dollar symbol.

Rowe and Stutchbury agreed that cartooning and caricaturing can raise difficult issues of context, ambiguity and free speech.

This issue differed from other recent such controversies in that the offence taken was completely unintended and unrelated to the explicit point of the cartoon. The Frydenberg character could be removed completely without changing the cartoon’s intended meaning.

Stutchbury thanked Jewish leaders for their constructive interaction with the Financial Review over the weekend, including their acceptance of the masthead’s explanation.

Over more than three decades, he said, Rowe had become Australia’s most decorated working cartoonist. His work remained widely loved, including by the political and business figures he caricatures.

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