Cartoonist Accuses Censorship, Newspaper Says ‘False Allegations’
“I have been battling to protect my freedom, to protect the sanctity of a cartoon column,” cartoonist Satish Acharya said in a Facebook post.
“I have been battling to protect my freedom, to protect the sanctity of a cartoon column,” cartoonist Satish Acharya said in a Facebook post.(Photo Courtesy: CartoonistSatish.Com)

Cartoonist Accuses Censorship, Newspaper Says ‘False Allegations’

(This is a reproduction of cartoonist Satish Acharya's Facebook post, dated 12 August. It has been republished with permission. A few edits have been made for clarity.)

DROP THE CARTOON AND CARRY A PHOTO!

That’s how my cartoon column with Mail Today ended yesterday. That’s how the editor looked at a cartoon and cartoonist’s opinion. That’s how the editor chose to shut a voice!

The cartoon he rejected was about how China is surrounding India by spreading influence in countries like Maldives and others. The editor said the cartoon is, ‘Very defeatist and the China problem is being overplayed’.

I thought, this is how a cartoonist looked at the growing influence of China around Indian interests.

So, I said it’s debatable and the cartoonist’s opinion should be valued. And in response, he asked the news desk to drop the cartoon and carry a photo.

I have been battling to protect my freedom, to protect the sanctity of a cartoon column, for many days. Maybe for the editor it’s just a three column space, but for a cartoonist it’s a whole world. A world where the cartoonist is free to express his opinion. A world to challenge his own creative boundaries. A world to voice protest, criticise, lament, cheer etc.
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  • First, they rejected a cartoon showing a cow saying ‘The editor is not too happy with the cartoon with a cow’.
  • For a cartoon on lynching, I received this message: ‘There’s a bit of an issue. The India Today Group has decided not to come out with any community-based cartoons.’
  • For one cartoon on Modi, they asked ‘if I can replace Modi’s character with any general BJP character’.
  • And then ‘Editor is not comfortable with the Muslim angle in the cartoon’.
  • And ‘editor didn’t like the demonetisation link with 100 percent electrification’.
  • And more of ‘this doesn’t make sense’, ‘this is unacceptable’ etc, etc. (And many of these rejected cartoons were used by other clients and some of them went viral, shared/retweeted even by many journalists)

It was very difficult to do a cartoon, as too many barriers were installed around me. Out of desperation, I approached many senior journalist friends for feedback. They sympathised with me, some asked me to wait and some asked me to stay strong.

Giving up is easy in such a situation, as I’m a freelance cartoonist contributing to other clients too. I thought I need to fight for my right. I thought I need to do justice to the cartoon space that goes with my name.

But at the end, I was rudely reminded that that space is owned by the editor, the paper. And they could just drop my cartoon and carry a photo!

Of course, there’s a strange relief. Now there’s a thought that when I sit to draw a cartoon, I don’t have to worry about what my editor thinks or says about the cow in the cartoon, lynching in the cartoon, Modi in the cartoon, or a Muslim or Hindu guy in the cartoon!

But this humiliating experience is hurting.

As a cartoonist, I expect my editor to respect my opinion and also trust the boundaries I have drawn for myself. Cartoonists are not bound to mimic editor’s voice. Cartoonists are supposed to and expected to express an independent voice.

Of course, the editor is within his right to differ with a cartoon and inform the cartoonist. But he should be open to discuss, without being dictatorial. My cartoons used to appear in the op-ed page of Mail Today, where I thought some of the columnists enjoyed more freedom than my cartoons!

Luckily, I have a few other clients, where the editors respect my opinion and trust my cartoons, even when they don’t agree with me. Hope we will have more such large-hearted editors. And I also have social media, where an independent voice gets an audience.

Ironically, the personal website of BJP chief Amit Shah carries most of my cartoons featuring him. Many of them are very critical of him!

As famously quoted, when they are asked to bend, they chose to crawl!

Also Read : Media Coverage (Or Lack of It) of Rafale Presser by Shourie, Sinha

“It's Our Job to be Critical of the Govt”

Speaking to The Quint about his Facebook post, Satish Acharya pointed out that the many other editors he had worked with in the past were “open to discussion” even if they disagreed with some of his cartoons.

But with this editor, it’s more like instructions. ‘Change the cartoon, give a different cartoon’. It grew unbearable because I was being asked to change the cartoons 3-4 times in a week... These are harmless cartoons. I have my own lakshman rekha and I draw my own boundaries like many other cartoonists. So we work within that boundary.
Satish Acharya to The Quint

Underlining the role of a cartoonists, Acharya said it “their job to be critical of the government,” emphasising that they usually “sit in the opposition.”

It is the job of a cartoonist to have a critical look at the government... I have been drawing cartoons even when UPA was in power and during all the scams... People used to share these cartoons. But when the Modi government came to power, common people who are cartoon-lovers started criticising my work being critical of the government. They are targeting me now for drawing a cartoon on Modi.
Satish Acharya to The Quint

Also Read : Editors Guild India Decries Govt’s Attempt to Curb Press Freedom

Our Editorial Freedom Stays Unaffected by False Allegations: Mail Today Editor

Responding to the claims made by Satish Acharya in his Facebook post, Mail Today editor Dwaipayan Bose told The Quint that this was the "first time" his cartoon had been dropped, while emphasising on the daily's editorial freedom.

As to why this has been done – please note that editorial decision-making is an internal exercise and the prerogative of the Mail Today editorial team. Our editorial freedom is absolute, and it stays unaffected by false allegations and unjust insinuations. We are under no obligation to carry content that fails to pass our editorial filters.
Mail Today editor Dwaipayan Bose to The Quint

(As told to Arpan Rai and Kabir Upmanyu for The Quint)

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