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Press council rules that controversial cartoon of Serena Williams was 'not racist' and in public interest

The cartoon was published following Williams’ behaviour at the US Open last year.

Serena Williams reacts during after receiving a game penalty at the US Open Women's Final last year
Serena Williams reacts during after receiving a game penalty at the US Open Women's Final last year
Image: UPI/PA Images

THE AUSTRALIAN PRESS Council has ruled that a controversial cartoon of tennis star Serena Williams did not breach media press standards.

The cartoon by illustrator Mark Knight, published by the Melbourne-based Herald Sun newspaper last September, showed Williams reacting angrily during her loss to Naomi Osaka in the final of the US Open.

Williams was depicted with her mouth open wide, wither her hands in fists, and jumping above a broken tennis racket and a baby’s soother.

An umpire was also shown telling a blonde woman – meant to be Osaka -”Can you just let her win?”

It followed Williams’ behaviour in the final, when she received a warning from the chair umpire for receiving coaching from the sidelines before emphatically defending herself and smashing her racket in frustration a short time later.

After being docked a point, the 23-time major winner protested and demanded an apology from the umpire, who penalised her a game point.

Serena tweet Source: Twitter/@damonheraldsun

However, critics claimed the cartoon showed a stereotype of black women, depicting Williams as an irate, big-mouthed black woman jumping up and down.

The Australian Press Council also said it had received complaints from people who believed the cartoon was racist and sexist.

In response, the Herald Sun claimed the cartoon used “satire, caricature, exaggeration, and humor” to depict an event of public interest.

And in a ruling published today, the press council said it accepted the newspaper’s contention the cartoon was in response to Williams’ behaviour during the match.

The council said that while it “acknowledged that some readers found the cartoon offensive”, there was sufficient public interest in commenting on the behaviour of an athlete with a global profile.

“Concern was expressed that the cartoon depicted Ms Williams with large lips, a broad flat nose, a wild afro-styled ponytail hairstyle different to that worn by Ms Williams during the match and positioned in an ape-like pose,” the council said in a statement.

“The council considered that the cartoon uses exaggeration and absurdity to make its point but accepts the publisher’s claim that it does not depict Ms Williams as an ape, rather showing her as ‘spitting the dummy’, a non-racist caricature familiar to most Australian readers.”

It added that the Herald Sun argued that the cartoon was not intended to depict any race or gender negatively, and was drawn in a style that the cartoonist had used over several decades.

Knight responded positively to the council’s findings, telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he was “very happy” with the ruling.

“I will not be changing the way I draw cartoons because I think I’m a very free and fair cartoonist and I accept issues on their merits and draw them as such,” he said. 

With reporting from Associated Press.

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