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Gerald Scarfe and the writing on the wall

I spent a lot of today writing about a cartoon by my colleague Gerald Scarfe on behalf of the UK’s Professional Cartoonists Organisation.

You can see the piece of visual opinion here if you have not already done so.

At procartoonists.org we have a growing and diverse membership whose opinions are not uniform and especially not when addressing political cartoons. You will see this fact of life reflected in the post I wrote there.

However, personally I think accusations of anti-semitism aimed at the cartoonist Scarfe are unfounded and a diversion from his drawn comment about the behaviour of the present Israeli prime Minister in the runup to the recent elections. (We went through a similar process of debate with cartoonist Dave Brown and  a piece of work from the Independent way back in 2003).

Scarfe himself apologised early in the row to the Jewish Chronicle for not knowing the image was to be published on Holocaust Memorial Day.

As to the horror or insulting nature of his image, if you have any knowledge of Scarfe’s work over half a century or more, this style of communication is very much his method. Look at the archives for evidence.

For more informed context, another cartooning colleague Martin Rowson has written elegantly about political cartooning and why it does what it does. I recommend the read.

More broadly and speculating, I do wonder about the unusual step taken by the owner and publisher of the Sunday Times Rupert Murdoch who really ignited the row when he tweeted a public apology about the image on Monday evening. I link to it below.


@ Matthew Buck Hack Cartoons

Online display.

Predictably this put enormous pressure upon the recently appointed Acting Editor of the newspaper, Martin Ivens. He recanted the Scarfe cartoon this evening after a meeting with representatives of organisations who had complained (report from the UKPG).

You can read the resulting Sunday Times statement here.

I think on the whole the story tells us rather more about the exercise of  ‘soft’ power than it does about either anti-semitism or political cartooning.

Journalist Michael Crick noted the friendship between the publisher, Murdoch and the subject of the cartoon, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu.

Michael Crick on Murdoch and Netanyahu

@ Matthew Buck Hack Cartoons

Online display.

We know Mr Murdoch is a generous man having invited our own recent Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to stand godfather to his daughter at a recent ceremony on the banks of the river Jordan. He also likes to entertain.

I’d hazard that Gerald Scarfe who has had a 40-year career at the newspaper is now not far from a change of scenery. Change is certainly afoot at the News International titles.

Updated: 3rd February. Peter Preston, former editor of The Guardian, writes about the changed opportunities for command and control of the information businesses.

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