Brian Gable is The Globe and Mail’s editorial cartoonist.
Twenty-six years ago the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 as World Press Freedom Day. In that previous age the words “press freedom” mostly brought to mind struggles against tyrants imprisoning journalists who dared challenge their right to govern. Today, as recent headlines confirm, despots are still imprisoning and eliminating their critics – but newspapers and broadcasters are now increasingly engaging in a two-front battle as the very integrity and accuracy of many media institutions are increasingly challenged by a wide range of detractors from across the entire political spectrum. From U.S. President Donald Trump’s “fake news” tirades to the silencing of broadly defined “hate speech" targets, the wide-ranging public conversations which once took place in both print and broadcast media are shrinking. Meanwhile, the tone of discourse has continued to devolve into shouting and rank accusations as discussion and debate are replaced steadily with angry ad hominem attacks, particularly on social media platforms.
For editorial cartoonists, navigating that shifting universe is becoming an ever more complex challenge. Humour has always been a powerful weapon against spitefulness and factionalism, but as audiences splinter into increasingly antagonistic confederacies, finding images and themes which speak to a shared human condition can be a daunting task. Canadians have generally been good at this, and Canadian editorial cartooning has a widely acknowledged reputation for directing satire toward national idiosyncrasies and avoiding attacks on marginalized groups. With the slow extinction of local newspapers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a forum for public discussion. This affects cartoonists and their readers profoundly. Wes Tyrell, president of the Association of Canadian Cartoonists spoke about the issue recently:
“Unfortunately, we no longer look just at other countries to see alarming issues with cartoonist freedoms. Canada and the U.S. are both slipping and a large part of this is due to a consolidation of newspapers in the hands of a few. Where most towns once had a voice with their local cartoonist, many papers are now run by single sources that dictate content and send it across the country in the form of dreadful boilerplate editorials and cartoons.”
The following cartoons are drawn by Canadian artists from across the country. They remind us that humour and satire are important components in promoting a sense of a shared public space and, in so, reminding us to speak to our shared fallibility as individuals and as a nation. Satire is pivotal in opening up space for discussion by providing the oxygen of shared laughter.