A political cartoonist in Australia was fired after depicting a man in a Tiananmen Square-style standoff with a tank retrofitted with a vaccine needle.
Illustrator Michael Leunig says he was sacked by The Age newspaper’s editorial page after editors rejected his cartoon, after which he posted it to his Instagram page.
The image was captioned “mandate.”
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Leunig’s cartoon, which never made the paper, featured one of his typically fragile, big-nosed figures facing the silhouette of a tank with a syringe in place of the gun turret.
In the top left corner, the 76-year-old copied the iconic ‘Tank Man’ image showing a Beijing demonstrator standing in the path of a column of tanks in 1989.
“Apparently, I’m out of touch with the readership,” Leunig said in a recent interview based on what the paper’s editor told him.
“If what [The Age editor Gay Alcorn] says is right, I don’t much want to work for the sorts of readers who are so censorious,” he told The Australian.
Leunig says The Age prefers contributors stick with pro-government, pro-vaccine narratives.
“It seems that at The Age in particular, you can’t go near the Covid story except in a way that’s supportive of the Victorian government’s handling of it. And if you’re not supportive, that’s reason enough for you to be cancelled,” he said.
Leunig says in the past the paper had also censored 12 of his previous drawings in the past year.
According to Alcorn, Leunig’s comics “continue to be published,” but will only appear on The Age‘s Saturday Spectrum section.
She also confirmed she’d pulled previous cartoons, many of which dealt with vaccines.
“I have pulled multiple cartoons by Leunig, almost entirely on the grounds that they expressed an anti-vaccination sentiment. We don’t mind cartoonists challenging the readers. We encourage diversity of thought, but I had a concern with cartoons perceived as anti-vaccination.”
Evidently, Leunig has a massive following; a “Michael Leunig Appreciation Page” on Facebook operated by The Age is followed by over 213,000 people.
Despite the controversy, The Age is still taking pre-order sales for its 2022 calendar exclusively featuring Leunig’s artwork.
Interestingly, photos of the Tiananmen Square protest’s iconic Tank Man were censored by Microsoft-owned search engine Bing on the 32nd anniversary of the event earlier this year.
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