From First Up on RNZ

The creator of a cartoon joking about the Samoa measles epidemic has apologised, saying it should not have been put forward for publication.

Garrick Tremain's cartoon for the Otago Daily Times sparked an immediate backlash online - being labelled racist, heartless and insensitive.

Tremain posted an apology to his website this morning in which he acknowledged the "lack of judgement" on his part.

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An apology posted on Garrick Tremain's website this morning.
An apology posted on Garrick Tremain's website this morning.

Yesterday, the newspaper apologised for publishing the cartoon which it said was a deeply regrettable error in judgement. "The content and the timing of the cartoon were insensitive," Otago Daily Times editor Barry Stewart wrote.

It shows two people walking out of a travel agent and one remarking that the least popular spots right now are the ones people are picking up in Samoa.

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Tremain earlier told RNZ that while it was understandable people were upset, he wouldn't publicly apologise to Samoa for "a simple, light-hearted joke."

"If you've read the cartoon, the basis is a travel agent taking the wrong end of the stick and making a stupid comment.

"I can quite understand why it has upset people. It's a very poor piece of timing for such a cartoon - I'm the first to agree with that."

The ODT's apology. Photo / ODT
The ODT's apology. Photo / ODT

He said had he realised the epidemic was going to be "all over the paper" he would not have presented it.

"Had I known this was happening I don't think I would have done it, but it took me by surprise that it suddenly hit full face into the news this morning.

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"I know it's not a happy situation at all."

But he defended the cartoon itself.

"Obviously, I would have thought that was self-evident, if I had thought it wasn't advisable or satisfactory I wouldn't have done it.

"I can later regret having done it, but at the time that did not occur to me. I thought it was an innocuous joke.

"It doesn't mention anything about death or children or things that everybody else seems to be so concerned about."

Tremain earlier ruled out a public apology to Samoa.

"I've had people ringing up and asking me for an apology and telling me I have no right to do cartoons or mention Samoa at the moment - so that rules out doing an apology because I could hardly do that without mentioning Samoa."

He said he had heard from a number of Samoans and was very sorry to have upset them. "I've personally apologised to those who've spoken to me for the fact that I've upset them. It was not my intention. But if you think I should personally apologise to the entirety of the Samoan nation then I don't agree with you."

"In this politically correct atmosphere that we're being suffocated by you have to be aware that there is a growing number of people who wake up in the morning and their first intention is to find something to be offended about, so that's something that we didn't have to deal with in the past to the extent that we do now."

"I see nothing wrong with the cartoon. It's not causing any more deaths, it's not laughing about deaths, it's laughing about a stupid misunderstanding by a travel agent speaking to somebody.

"It's not making light of the tragedy, in my opinion."

Before the apology, well-known journalist and TVNZ's Breakfast Host John Campbell shared his disgust over the "shameful" cartoon.

"This is terrible, ODT. What a shameful assault on the cartoonist's art - and on empathy, decency, human feeling, and the people of a country with which we're so close," he wrote.

"Who would draw this? Who would publish this? And why?"

-RNZ