The power of laughter: Freedom of strokes

May 27, 2013 - 2:57:52 am

By Isabel Ovalle

As part of celebration of World Press Freedom Day by Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF), Qatar University’s College of Law hosted an exhibition of the top 25 entries in the inaugural DCMF World Press Freedom Day Cartoon Contest. The exhibition was hosted at the QU College of Law from May 20 to 23, showcasing works that highlight the power of laughter.

The photography exhibition, which was put together in conjunction with DCMF’s Gaza bureau, documented the work of journalists and actions against members of the media during Israel’s war on Gaza in November 2012.

The cartoon contest, which had the theme ‘Media Freedom,’ received 237 entries from 47 countries around the world. The entries provide an insight into how cartoonists perceive threats to press freedom and access to information, and indicate the power of cartoons.

Members of the jury included Jan Keulen, director of DCMF, who worked for 20 years as a foreign correspondent for several Dutch media organisations, including 12 years reporting from the Middle East. Among other things, he designed and implemented a course for journalists in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua on freedom of expression, access to information and safety of journalists.

In an article published recently, Keulen said DCMF had received the largest number of entries in the contest from Iran (41), followed by Indonesia with 14 entries, and China with 13 entries. In a piece published on the website of the organisation, he talked about “the bravery and creativity of courageous cartoonists and journalists who use their work to battle against restrictions imposed on the media and society in general.” 

“Cartoons have always been an integral part of journalism. We consider cartoons as a highly effective and attractive journalistic genre to inform the public about complex political and social issues,” he added.Also in the jury was political cartoonist Shujaat Ali Shamshad, whose works were first published on the editorial pages of Pakistan’s second-largest English daily, The News International, in 1992. Now he is working with Al Jazeera news channel and has won several awards for his cartoons in Pakistan, Iran and Japan. 

Among the other members of the jury was Robert Russell, who has a long and diverse professional background working for organisations such as the US Peace Corps, the International Rescue Committee, the University of Massachusetts, the US State Department, and a number of NGOs in countries such as Ghana, Uganda, India, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Kenya. In 1991, he started Cartoonists Rights Network International, an organisation dedicated to the safety, well-being and free speech rights of editorial cartoonists around the world. 

Russell was pleased to participate in the contest and expressed his satisfaction at the fact that it would be held annually. “For most of the early modern media environment, political and social cartoons have always been regarded as journalism’s country cousins. Certainly part of the family, but not usually invited to the grown-ups table. But this has recently changed, and changed dramatically”, he said.

In an article published recently by DCMF, Russell said that growing recognition of the power of cartoons was why, “in the last 10 years, especially, there has been an unprecedented global increase in the number of attacks against political cartoonists.” 

In his opinion, attacks against cartoonists demonstrate the real power behind cartoons: laughter. “During my 20 years of working with cartoonists under attack, I can say definitively, that the one thing tyrants cannot stand is to be laughed at,” he stated.

Also in the jury was Ali Ferzat, a Syrian cartoonist born in Hama in 1951. His cartoons started appearing for the first time in 1980 on the editorial pages of the largest French daily, Le monde, and in other, international newspapers. He was elected chairman of the Arab Cartoonists Association in 1980. Over the years, Ferzat has won numerous awards for his work.

Mohammed Abdullateef, a jury member from Qatar, is the chief cartoonist at the local newspaper Al Raya. He started as a sports cartoonist in 1990 with local newspaper Al Dawri before he joined Al Raya in 1996 as a social and political cartoonist. He has published eight books and held several exhibitions in Qatar. His cartoons have been used by Qatar’s Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Commerce and Qatar TV.

The Peninsula