Media Sauce: Where’s BLeak when it comes to #FreeSpeech for cartoonists?

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Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning for 2016 went to Eaten Fish, a refugee on Manus. This is one of his cartoons.

A large number of Australian cartoonists have supported international efforts to get their colleagues out of detention in Malaysia, Turkey and Manus Island but, as Dr Martin Hirst discovered, there’s one significant voice that’s gone MIA on this one.

Where’s #FreeSpeech Bill when we need him?

The Australian’s highly-phobic cartoonist Bill Leak usually has plenty to say about freedom of speech and freedom of expression. He’s always in the frontline and mounting the Holt Street barricades whenever there’s a call to arms over some egregious complaint against his master’s voice.

You can’t silence Bleak when there’s gay Nazis to be mown down, or when a politically-correct snowflake "victim" demands equal rights, or a Muslim family claims institutional racism.

"Certainly a BLeak view". Screenshot and artwork by @ethicalmartini

Therefore, I find it strange that he’s been eerily silent recently about the plight of fellow cartoonists who are feeling the sting of an unjust law.

The Cartoonist Rights Network International (@CRNetint on Twitter) is currently featuring three incarcerated cartoonists on its homepage:

Zunar (Image courtesy of CRNI)

(1) Zunar, a Malaysian cartoonist currently challenging state-sponsored censorship on multiple fronts. He is subject to a travel ban, is facing multiple charges of sedition, and suffers continual harassment by police and supporters of the government.

Drawing of Musa Kart from an exhibition in his honour (Used with permission)

(2) Turkish political cartoonist and Courage in Editorial Cartoon Award winner Musa Kart, who has spent over 100 days in custody after he and several colleagues from Cumhuriyet newspaper were arrested and charged with 'crimes on behalf of the Fethullahist Terror Organisation and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)'.

(3) The winner of the 2016 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award Eaten Fish, who is currently held in an Australian refugee rendition camp in Papua New Guinea and who has been on a hunger strike for over 10 days.

Mr Eaten Fish is dying on Manus Island

The dire situation of Eaten Fish is yet another Manus Island horror story.

Eaten is close to death. He has been on a hunger strike because the authorities on Manus Island (which is part of Papua New Guinea) refuse to deal with his serious allegations of sexual and physical assault. He weighs only 48 kilos. The guards have told him he is to be returned to the compound where he is unsafe.

Despite a campaign for his release, now in its sixth month, Immigration Minister Sinister Mutton refuses to help Eaten Fish.

I cannot tell his story any better than this:

In an urgent letter to Australian Border Force Chief Medical Officer Dr John Brayley dated 2nd February 2017, Dr Sue Ditchfield writes:

‘Bizarrely he [Eaten Fish] was expected to prove the assaults to the satisfaction of PNG authorities. He was unwilling to identify his assailants because of his fear of retribution and of course any assaults take place well away from the compound guards’.

Further, the authorities Eaten Fish was to expected to prove the assaults to were the same authorities who had assaulted him late in 2016.

In a letter to CMO Brayley, founder and co-ordinator of Writing through Fences, Janet Galbraith, writes:

'At the beginning of the hunger strike he [Eaten Fish] only weighed 53 kilos and he has already lost a substantial amount of weight. He reports to me today that he is shaky, weak, has a lot of body pain, no longer feels hunger, is losing his memory and his heart is beating fast. He says he can no longer shower.’

‘I cannot suffer anymore. I know now that I will have to die because I cannot suffer anymore,' Mr Fish told Ms Galbraith.

'I cannot suffer anymore. I know now

that I will have to die because

I cannot suffer anymore’,

Mr Fish told Ms Galbraith.

When asked by authorities within the prison camp what he wished to accomplish through his hunger strike, Mr Fish said:

‘Something happens with hunger strike and I think you know what that is. I will die and this will all finish.'

Australian authorities, like the PNG officials on Manus Island, don’t care about Eaten Fish — but he has a lot of support among his fellow cartoonists, both in Australia and around the world.

Many Australian cartoonists have drawn in support of Eaten Fish, including First Dog on the MoonCathy Wilcox, Fiona Katauskas, David Pope and Glen Le Lievre.

IA readers can check #EatenFish Tweets streaming live below:

However, there is one surprising omission from this list. It is none other than the loud and proud free speech fundamentalist, Mr Bill Leak – or as I like to call him BLeak – of The Australian.

Leak is no stranger to politically-motivated attacks on cartoonists. He regularly claims to be the victim of left-wing jibes motivated by political correctness gone mad. Of course, he also denies, denies, denies that he draws homophobic and racist cartoons. His defenders even invoke anti-Nazi priest Martin Niemoller in his dubious honour.

Jim Ball's pro-Leak blog (Image screenshot)

I sought comment about this from some of Australia’s premiere cartoonists. Their collective response was so good I thought IA readers deserved to read it, in full, for themselves.


Why is it important for you to support your fellow cartoonists?

Australia’s cartoonists:

I think cartoonists are an important voice in the world. I also think one has an obligation to try and support people in one's own profession who are in trouble, it's a belief in the power of union.

The MEAA has been running a campaign for the cartoonist Eaten Fish, the journalist Behrouz Boochani, and the actor Mehdi Savari, all of whom have professions that come under the MEAA's remit. This isn't to say that the other asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru should be there either, no one should be indefinitely incarcerated for seeking asylum, but you have to start somewhere.


You have been subject to political trolling too, how does it affect you?

Australia’s cartoonists:

I don't get too much trolling, and what I do get is obviously from people who are so fixed in their beliefs of something they would be impervious to argument and fact, so I ignore them. The generally totally illogical nature of their arguments does upset me, it makes me worry that there is no hope of making things better.


Why are cartoonists such big targets, aren’t you just telling jokes?

Australia’s cartoonists:

Two answers, firstly, everyone doing anything publicly is a target nowadays. Secondly, cartoons often go to the heart of a matter, pointing out what is wrong, and people hate to have their fortifications broached.


Cartooning is like satire, it seems very political, with only a few lines and a bit of colour, what motivates you?

Australia’s cartoonists:

Cartooning can use satire as a tool, and it can be very political, although it isn't necessarily. Otherwise the phrase 'political cartooning' would be a tautology.

I am motivated by wanting to make the world a better place, which means a concern with the inequalities of society and the world. I believe that what Australia is doing with asylum seekers is very wrong. It is immoral to treat people in this way.

Anger… And groupies.


Are you at all surprised that Bill Leak hasn’t drawn a cartoon yet for Eaten Fish or Musa Kart, given his strident and vocal support for freedom of expression?

Australia’s cartoonists:

This seems like a red herring question. The problem for Eaten Fish is incarceration, not censorship, except perhaps as a consequence of incarceration. I can't speculate on Bill's motivations. Maybe he hasn't come across the campaign. Maybe he's only just coping with the work he has to do to make a living.

You could equally ask why Michael Leunig hasn't done a cartoon for Eaten Fish, given his love of the human spirit and belief in the soul of the artist able to wander freely. There are plenty of well known cartoonists who haven't done cartoons for this campaign, I don't think it's our place to draw narky conclusions about their absence.

After taking advice from the cartoonists I spoke to, I decided not to approach BLeak or The Australian for comment.

I did not ask Leak or his publisher for two basic reasons:

BLeak obviously works too hard. His *official* website says he is too busy to respond personally to FAQS because he works 12-14 hours a day on his editorial cartoons. All I can think is that he must do lots of drafts before the editors are happy because his work is not that technically difficult or proficient.

So, let’s just leave it here, for now.

Dear fans, get lost, love BLeak (Image: Screenshot)

Why bother watching the ABC

I have been loyal to the ABC for my entire adult life. I worked for "Aunty" too, in radio current affairs, at Radio Australia and for Triple J before it became a kid’s music station.

But now, to be perfectly honest, I can’t be bothered. I’ve given up on ABC News, I find that 7.30 (what kind of postmodern nonsense name is that for a TV current affairs show?) just makes me furious and shouty, and the flagship Q&A is just troll-bait and right-wing apologia interspersed with lectures from pontificator-in-chief Tony Jones.

I tweeted this on Monday night and I’ve been surprised and slightly chuffed at the response I’ve had. Over 130 retweets and 144 likes, which is a lot for me. It seems to have struck a chord with people who are as fed up as me with the ABC’s blatant shift to conservatism over the past few years.

I’ve written previously in this column about how Michelle Guthrie is reshaping the ABC to be more Murdoch and Coalition friendly, much to the chagrin of ABC Friends and some staff.

This week, we’ve seen more decisions that confirm this direction with the appointment of yet another #IPADrone to yet another rote-formula radio panel show, showcasing conservatives like the entitled Georgina Downer.

I’ve also given up almost entirely on ABC radio. I’m usually in the car during the day when I listen and, after listening to Jon Faine for years, I’ve finally had enough. He is pompous and pretends he’s progressive, but it is only a layer nano particles thick. When given an opportunity to really stand up for something that is truly progressive, he gets cold feet, lest he come across as *too* leftwing.

Like Leigh Sales on 7.30 and Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast, Faine attacks real lefties and gets all faux tough on ministers. The afternoons on Radio National are no better, with Amanda Vanstone, Patricia Karvelas and Tom Switzer dominating the day. Vanstone is a former Howard-era Liberal minister, while Karvelas and Switzer are both still on Murdoch’s payroll as well as being paid by the ABC. Karvelas even has her own show on Murdoch’s “Fox Down-Under” network.

I find this particularly galling and I recently asked Patricia in a tweet, when she is on Twitter, is she tweeting #NewsCorpse or #OurABC. 

The @PatsKarvelas - @EthicalMartini tweets. 

I’m pleased that my time has been freed up now that I no longer feel the ABC has to be constant background noise in my life. I’ve also stopped reading The Australian entirely too. I don’t even bother with the weekend edition any more.

There’s plenty of alternative sources out there. I’m still a news junkie, but I tend to follow stories more selectively than I used to.

What’s your view?

I’m keen to know what IA readers think of the ABC these days. Please share your thoughts in the comments thread. I will jump in for a chat and perhaps write another column pulling your suggestions for improvements together.

You can read more by IA's political editor Dr Martin Hirst on his blog Ethical Martini and follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

You can follow Save Eaten Fish on Facebook here.

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