Otago Daily Times says sorry

The Otago Daily Times has published a full apology for their racist cartoon about the measles epidemic in Thursday’s editorial, stating: “we got it wrong.”

Yesterday, the editor of the O.D.T came under fire while delivering a public apology on the doorstep of his newspaper in Dunedin, after not one, but two written apologies published online.

Barry Stewart faced hecklers but persisted and in Thursday’s editorial wrote his paper failed where readers rely upon it the most.

“You trust us to be your eyes and your ears, to advocate for you and even challenge you. And you trust us to demonstrate good judgement.

They say a newspaper should be a mirror to its community. On that measure, we failed.

“We are very sorry for what we did. I want to apologise personally to our Samoan communities and to the people of Samoa, who continue to deal with the impacts of an awful tragedy. To them and the many thousands of people we have hurt and let down, I am sincerely sorry.”

The cartoon, depicting women leaving a travel agency and making a joke about of holiday ‘spots’ and the measles rash, was instantly decried on social media, and several people called for the cartoonist, Garrick Tremain to resign.

But speaking to Radio New Zealand the next day Mr. Tremain was unapologetic for the substance of the cartoon – only its timing.

“I see nothing wrong with the cartoon. It's not causing any more deaths, it's not laughing about deaths, it's laughing about a stupid misunderstanding by a travel agent speaking to somebody.”

Mr. Stewart, it appears, disagrees. The Otago Daily Times announced it will cease printing Mr. Tremain’s work “while it works through a review process.”

When Mr. Stewart stepped outside to make a formal public apology, he was heckled by a 40 strong crowd of protestors, some bearing Samoan flags.

Protest leader Sina Brown-Davis told the paper she was “filled with outrage and disgust.

“There is no good timing to make light the deaths of 60 babies and children,” she said. 

His cartoon even felt the ire of Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver, on her second mission to Samoa to cover the epidemic. In a column published on TVNZ’s website, Ms. Dreaver wrote:

“The Otago Daily Times cartoon which jokes about Samoa’s measles epidemic is a racist offensive reflection of someone who sits pondering the world from his comfy secure chair.

“It’s a complete and utter embarrassment that this one has failed to fire on all of the above and Tremain’s fading irrelevancy and breath-taking stupidity is on public display.

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The Editorial, in full:

The Otago Daily Times failed where you rely upon us the most. For that, we are sincerely sorry.

You trust us to be your eyes and your ears, to advocate for you and even challenge you. And you trust us to demonstrate good judgement.

Our editorial decisions should respect you, the taonga of your stories and your views. You should expect nothing less. And we should demand nothing less of ourselves.

They say a newspaper should be a mirror to its community. On that measure, we failed.

On Tuesday, we published a cartoon that now defies description. It was clearly significantly more than crass and insensitive. It was deeply offensive and it continues to cause significant distress.

The cartoon should not have been selected for the editorial page. It should not have been published. And we should have made this much clearer when we understood the impact of our decision.

Yesterday, we published an apology on the editorial page. Traditionally, this is where we would apologise for content published on that page. Doing so failed to reflect the gravity of what we had done. We were wrong.

We are sincerely grateful to the many thousands of people who emailed, telephoned and messaged us to tell us the cartoon had no place in their newspaper, their news feeds and, indeed, in modern society.

Many were personally affected by the awful human tragedy unfolding in Samoa.

Grandparents, uncles, sisters called to ask how we could lampoon a measles epidemic that has caused such death and sorrow.

The disease is killing children. It is killing elders. It threatens the fabric of so many communities. We have published stories about this but, to our shame, we failed to learn from what we have seen.

We know words will not fix what we did. The cartoon was published, read, and shared by thousands of people. It has caused untold hurt here, in Samoa and around the world.

Actions speak louder than words and your newspaper must act now, and into the future, in such a way as to re-earn your trust.

We have immediately changed the way our cartoon is selected. Traditionally, this was kept entirely separate from the news team and was the preserve of the editor. Our daily cartoons will now be considered and debated by our broader editorial team.

Garrick Tremain’s cartoons will no longer be considered for publication in the Otago Daily Times or any of its sister publications while a review process takes place.

We have started reaching out to people who can help us improve how we present and relate to our communities. This will take time: we have significant time to make up for, and significant amends to make.

We are very sorry for what we did. I want to apologise personally to our Samoan communities and to the people of Samoa, who continue to deal with the impacts of an awful tragedy. To them and the many thousands of people we have hurt and let down, I am sincerely sorry.

- By Barry Stewart, Editor

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