The news that The New Age had summarily terminated cartoonist Jerm’s contract for not being “aligned” with the Gupta-owned newspaper’s vision and mission was greeted with howls of outrage. And a few “told you so’s” from those who always suspected the paper was more editorially “aligned” with the ANC-led government than not.
Fellow cartoonist, and no stranger to controversy, Zapiro, honoured his colleague with a cartoon in The Times today. Talk Radio 702 host Jenny Crys Williams (@jcwLIFE), in conversation with journalist Gus Silber, asked, “How can you be too political. For whom? Jacob? The Guptas? The public?” David Bullard (@lunchout2) said, “Didn’t realize The New Age had a vision. Thought that only happened to nuns. You will be sorely missed.”
Jerm, or Jeremy Nell, says no particular cartoon led to the break up of the relationship, but rather his “general position, politically and satirically”. There weren’t even complaints about his work. “Not that I know of, no. Unfortunately.”
The New Age’s mission statement has seven points, the ones relevant to content being “to present a wide range of news and information in a bold, accurate and balanced manner; to be critical, but fair and constructive; and to raise the level of awareness and consciousness around issues affecting the people of South Africa”.
Jerm says editor Moegsien Williams, who recently left a senior position at Independent Newspapers to take the helm at The New Age, didn’t quote points in the mission specifically. “The termination was because my cartoons aren’t aligned to the newspaper’s mission. The termination was merely ending that mis-alignment,” he says.
A quick visit to his website reveals that the word ‘cartoonist’ has been crossed out and replaced with ‘censorship’ but it wasn’t in response to being fired by The New Age, he says, but was added to protest the furore around The Spear. “I added that during “The Spear” saga, when the FPB censored the painting (and subsequent reproductions thereof). It is not related to The New Age. Ironically, a number of people have asked the same question,” he says.
When Jerm posted news of his termination on the website, he wrote, “The New Age‘s editorial stance became increasingly out of sync with mine. This was particularly apparent when the current editor recently told me that he doesn’t “like cartoons [that make] political judgements or statements”. My satire can’t really function under such constraints”.
“When the newspaper launched, I was granted a fair amount of freedom and independence, despite the newspaper’s editorial position. (I would never have accepted the position otherwise.) As time progressed, I saw a few editors come and go, and I gradually began to feel less independent as more and more cartoons were being rejected. This became particularly evident when the current editor told me that he doesn’t ‘like cartoons [that make] political judgements or statements’,” he says.
Of course, the function of an editorial cartoonist is to be ‘political’, especially in now in South Africa’s murky pre-Mangaung climate. The need to shine a spoltlight on actors in the political arena has never been more necessary.
“Satire is very important. It helps gauge the political climate. The problem is that most people see satire as negative. It isn’t negative. Satire is about poking fun at the folly of something or someone for the sake of betterment. Lampooning the president’s actions is not because I want him to fail. (Why would I want him to fail? If he fails, then we all fail.) I lampoon the president’s actions because I want him to succeed. If he succeeds, then we all succeed. To me, that is not negative. To me, that is positive,” he explains.
Nevertheless, as he says, politics can be “very dark and can make me very angry. I see stupid things being said and done, and the only thing I can do is to mock them through my cynicism. Every so often, I need to take time out. This is a good opportunity for me to do that.”
He won’t be abandoning his art, he says, but rather working on cartoons that aren’t editorial. “I still do a lot of work for various publications and whatnot. You know, caption cartoons, strips, animations, magazine covers, cartoons for corporate newsletters, stuff like that. But I’ll be back in political cartooning sooner than you think. I just need to catch up on some sleep.”
Jerm says despite the end to his contract on the papers, he “had a great time, learnt a lot, submitted over 500 cartoons, worked with some superb individuals, and am proud of every cartoon that I drew for The New Age”.
The Media Online sent questions to The New Age but no one responded at the time of publication.