Cartoonist Satish Acharya cuts ties with Mail Today alleging censorship; editor Dwaipayan Bose rejects claim as baseless

An editorial decision to carry a photo, instead of a cartoon has gone viral on social media, also triggering a debate on the concept of an independent or free media in India. On Sunday, cartoonist Satish Acharya has alleged that the editor of Mail Today, Dwaipayan Bose, had rejected a cartoon on how China was surrounding India by spreading its influence in countries such as Maldives. According to Acharya, the editor said the illustration is "very defeatist and the China problem is being overplayed".

"I thought it was how a cartoonist looked at the growing influence of China around Indian interests. So I said it was debatable and the cartoonist's opinion should be valued. In response, he asked the news desk to drop the cartoon and carry a photo."

In his personal blog, Acharya wrote:

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!

 Cartoonist Satish Acharya cuts ties with Mail Today alleging censorship; editor Dwaipayan Bose rejects claim as baseless

Satish Acharya's cartoon at the heart of the controversy. Image taken from cartoonistsatish.com

In his blog, Acharya goes on to illustrate examples from the past when Bose rejected his ideas. "First, they rejected a cartoon showing a cow, saying, 'The editor is not too happy with the cartoon with 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 Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they asked if I could "replace Modi's character with any general BJP character". And then, 'The editor is not comfortable with the Muslim angle in the cartoon,' and 'The editor didn't like the demonetisation link with 100% electrification'. And more of "this doesn't make sense', 'this is unacceptable', et cetera."

"It was very difficult to draw 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, 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 needed to fight for my right. I thought I needed to do justice to the cartoon space that goes with my name."

Acharya tweeted other cartoons and claimed that they were the "cartoons rejected by the same editor". "They somehow reached readers through social media. (For bhakts who are spreading lies about plagiarism)."

Besides being widely shared on social media, Acharya's blog post has also brought the focus on the more crucial issues of editorial judgement and editorial freedom at a time when the concept of independent media is a much-debated subject.

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In his defence, the editor of Mail Today said that though Acharya "has a right to creative differences", it was "unethical" to make "baseless accusations and try to assign motives where none exist". "We do not act on the dictates of any entity. Our editorial integrity is inviolable — and stays unaffected by Acharya's false allegations," Bose said in a statement.

"This is the first instance in the recent past that his contribution has been dropped," the Mail Today editor added. "As a newspaper, we are under no obligation to carry content that fails to pass our editorial standards; the cartoon in question did not. On some other occasions, when his cartoons have been on sensitive issues — including on particular communities or courts — we've discussed it with him and carried a mutually agreed revised version."

In his blog, Acharya said he felt a strange relief now as he did not have to worry about "what my editor thinks/says about the cow in the cartoon, lynching in the cartoon, Modi in the cartoon or a Muslim/Hindu guy in the cartoon". "The humiliating experience was hurting," he wrote.

The cartoonist also pointed out: "Ironically, the personal website of BJP chief Amit Shah carries most of my cartoons featuring him, many of them are very critical of him!"

Updated Date: Aug 13, 2018 17:13:11 IST