New Zealand newspaper the Otago Daily Times is in damage control after it published a cartoon that mocked the recent deaths of more than 60 Samoans.
Currently, the island nation of Samoa is in lockdown after a measles outbreak affected roughly 4,000 people, killing at least 63 of them. Many of those who have died were young children.
A cartoon published in the Otago Daily Times last week showed two women existing a travel agency, with an accompanying caption that read: “I asked, ‘What are the least popular spots at the moment?’ She said: ‘The ones people are picking up in Samoa.’”
The cartoon, by artist Garrick Tremain, was quickly condemned as “heartless”, “appalling” and “distasteful”.
Daniel Leo, CEO of independent rugby players association Pacific Rugby Welfare, led the fury over the illustration.
While we bury our friends & Family’s a NZ publication Otago Daily Times @odtnews decide printing jokes about the measles epidemic which has already killed 58 in Samoa is OK?
Terrible taste & worthy of Boycotting them please people. pic.twitter.com/AVNqBV0zn2
— Daniel Leo (@danleo82) December 3, 2019
New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s race relations commissioner, Meng Foon, weighed in on the controversy, calling it a “slap in the face to grieving families”.
“I am very embarrassed that this cartoon originated in New Zealand,” he said.
“It is severely out of touch with the international community who are standing in solidarity by providing help with the medical effort in Samoa.”
The Otago Daily Times has since issued an apology for the cartoon on its website.
“The content and the timing of the cartoon were insensitive, and we apologise without reservation for publishing it,” editor Barry Stewart wrote.
“We have published many stories about the human suffering caused by the outbreak. They are stories not about a virus, they are stories of real people, real hurt, and real tragedy.
“This should have been our starting point when considering publishing the cartoon. That it was not was a deeply regrettable error in judgement.
“We will review our selection process. It must be robust. Our community expects no less.”
After originally defending the cartoon, Tremain has also apologised, admitting: “It should not have been put forward for publication and I acknowledge the lack of judgement on my part.”