Complaints we heard: Calgary Herald announces that syndicated cartoon will no longer be published

The National NewsMedia Council received a complaint about a racially insensitive syndicated cartoon that appeared in the Calgary Herald.

Concern was expressed that the cartoon, “Close to Home,” published on February 21, 2020, was racist against Indigenous people in its depiction of a character. The cartoon showed the Lone Ranger and Tonto at a bar, with the words “‘Kemosabe! Tonto hear last call coming! Maybe eight or ten minutes away…’”

A number of news media subsequently reported on objections to the inappropriate nature of the cartoon, hearing from First Nations groups and individuals on social media who stated that the cartoon presented negative stereotypes of Indigenous people as alcoholics. Reports also cited the inflammatory nature of the cartoon in the political backdrop of current events, which centres on the widely-reported protests and blockades taking place throughout the country in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s opposition to a pipeline project in B.C.

The news media organization responded by tweet on February 25, 2020, and by publishing an editor’s note in the February 26 edition of the Calgary Herald. Both responses apologized for the offensive nature of the cartoon and stated that the paper will cease publishing the syndicated comic strip.

The NNC is of the view that news media organizations are responsible for the third-party content they publish. It is worth noting that the syndication service and creator of the comic strip also issued an apology for the cartoon.

Ethical journalism takes care to ensure that language and images do not expose groups to discrimination. The NNC recognizes the particular importance of using appropriate language and images in times when such groups may be the subject of heightened political discourse.

In this case, the NNC recognizes that the news media organization offered an apology to readers. It further sent a strong message of preventing a similar error in future and distancing itself from the prejudiced representation by cancelling the cartoon in question. For these reasons, the NNC considers this matter resolved due to corrective action.