Cartoonist Michael Leunig axed over controversial vaccine cartoon

·2-min read

Well-known cartoonist Michael Leunig has been sacked by The Age newspaper over a controversial image comparing resistance to vaccine mandates in Victoria to the bloody Tiananmen Square massacre. 

The self-published drawing he posted to his Instagram account last month showed a lone protester standing in front of a syringe with an inset of the iconic 1989 “tank man” photo.

The image mimics one of the memorable photographs of the last century, which captured a standoff between an unidentified man and a line of military tanks leaving Beijing following a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors. 

A cartoon by Michael Leunig comparing resistance to mandatory vaccination to the fight for democracy in Tiananmen Square. Source: Instagram/leunigstudio
Cartoonist Michael Leunig has been axed by The Age over an image comparing resistance to mandatory vaccination to the fight for democracy in Tiananmen Square. Source: Instagram/leunigstudio

Mr Leunig's cartoon, which never made it to print, fiercely divided fans and outraged supporters of premier Daniel Andrews.

Last Monday, the newspaper issued a cryptic statement announcing it would be “trialling new cartoonists” on its editorial page, sparking speculation about his job.

Michael Leunig confirms he was fired

Now, Mr Leunig has confirmed to The Australian he has been axed from the prized position following a career spanning five decades.

He told columnist Nick Tabakoff that the Age’s editor Gay Alcorn said he was “out of touch with the readership”.

“Gay feels this type of cartoon is not in line with public sentiment, and The Age’s readership, who it does seem are largely in favour of the Andrews Covid narrative,” he said.

“But my job is to challenge the status quo, and that has always been the job of the cartoonist.”

A photo Newspaper cartoonist Michael Leunig speaking at an event. Source: Facebook/The Ethics Centre
Mr Leunig was reportedly told he was told he was “out of touch with the readership”. Source: Facebook/The Ethics Centre

Leunig defends vaccine cartoon

Leunig said the Tiananmen Square image is often used in cartoons around the world as “Charlie Chaplin-like metaphor for overwhelming force meeting the innocent powerless individual”.

“In my view, it is a fair enough issue to raise in the most locked-down city in the world,” he told the Australian.

“If what Gay says is right, I don’t much want to work for the sorts of readers who are so censorious. 

"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.”

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