Editorial: We got it wrong

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
The Otago Daily Times failed where you rely upon us the most. For that, we are sincerely sorry.

You trust us to be your eyes and your ears, to advocate for you and even challenge you. And you trust us to demonstrate good judgement.

Our editorial decisions should respect you, the taonga of your stories and your views. You should expect nothing less. And we should demand nothing less of ourselves.

They say a newspaper should be a mirror to its community. On that measure, we failed.

On Tuesday, we published a cartoon that now defies description. It was clearly significantly more than crass and insensitive. It was deeply offensive and it continues to cause significant distress.

The cartoon should not have been selected for the editorial page. It should not have been published. And we should have made this much clearer when we understood the impact of our decision.

Yesterday, we published an apology on the editorial page. Traditionally, this is where we would apologise for content published on that page. Doing so failed to reflect the gravity of what we had done. We were wrong.

We are sincerely grateful to the many thousands of people who emailed, telephoned and messaged us to tell us the cartoon had no place in their newspaper, their news feeds and, indeed, in modern society.

Many were personally affected by the awful human tragedy unfolding in Samoa.

Grandparents, uncles, sisters called to ask how we could lampoon a measles epidemic that has caused such death and sorrow.

The disease is killing children. It is killing elders. It threatens the fabric of so many communities. We have published stories about this but, to our shame, we failed to learn from what we have seen.

We know words will not fix what we did. The cartoon was published, read, and shared by thousands of people. It has caused untold hurt here, in Samoa and around the world.

Actions speak louder than words and your newspaper must act now, and into the future, in such a way as to re-earn your trust.

We have immediately changed the way our cartoon is selected. Traditionally, this was kept entirely separate from the news team and was the preserve of the editor. Our daily cartoons will now be considered and debated by our broader editorial team.

Garrick Tremain’s cartoons will no longer be considered for publication in the Otago Daily Times or any of its sister publications while a review process takes place.

We have started reaching out to people who can help us improve how we present and relate to our communities. This will take time: we have significant time to make up for, and significant amends to make.

We are very sorry for what we did. I want to apologise personally to our Samoan communities and to the people of Samoa, who continue to deal with the impacts of an awful tragedy. To them and the many thousands of people we have hurt and let down, I am sincerely sorry.

- By Barry Stewart, Editor