By Jan Keulen
DCMF director, Jan Keulen discussing issues related to safety of journalists and impunity at an Al Jazeera event in Doha
DCMF’s Director Jan Keulen writes about the role of cartoons in promoting media freedom.
It is said that the best cartoon is the one that needs no commentary. And the winning cartoons of our contest certainly speak for themselves. In mid-February, we asked the readers of our website to send in cartoons depicting the theme of “Media Freedom” for our inaugural Doha Centre for Media Freedom World Press Freedom Cartoon Contest.
Within six weeks, we received 237 cartoons from 47 countries. We received the largest number of entries from Iran (41), followed by Indonesia with 14 entries and China with 13 entries.
Thanks to all of you, cartoonists of the world! We organised the Cartoon Contest to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3 and to honour “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.
Often a good cartoon provokes a smile, a sense of recognition or shared outrage. Often a cartoon is able to express news and opinions bolder and faster than written text. While reading a newspaper, many of us turn first to the page with the daily cartoon.
In the Middle East, some cartoonists became national figures like the Palestinian Naji Al-Ali who was murdered in 1987. His Handalafigure, a barefooted boy observing the suffering and injustice, survived his creator until today as a symbol of the struggle of the Palestinian people. As no other Naji Al-Ali was able to express the sentiments and aspirations of the Palestinians as powerfully as he did through his work.
Many of the entries we received for the contest depicted the struggle between the media and the powerful; the endless fight between journalists and authorities that don’t want the public to know the facts, to know the truth.
Unfortunately, more often than not this is a realistic picture of the problems media professionals face to fulfill their mission. In spite of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right has to be fought for day after day in many parts of the world.
In that sense cartoonists, because they are able to express their opinions in such an effective way, are particularly vulnerable. Many cartoonists around the world are under threat, arrest, or intimidation because of their work.
A poignant example of this is the Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat who was kidnapped in August 2011 and savagely beaten by elements of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad’s security forces. His hands were broken: the hands he draws his cartoons with.
Doha Centre for Media Freedom is particularly proud and honored that Mr. Ferzat agreed to be part of the jury to judge the entries we received for our cartoon contest. The other prominent members of the jury were Mr. Mohammed Abdullateef, cartoonist at the Qatari newspaper Al Raya, Mr. Shujaat Ali, cartoonist at Al Jazeera Network and Mr. Robert Russell, Executive Director of the Cartoonists Rights Network International.
All of the jury members will be in Doha on the 1st of May, when we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, to hand over the awards to the winners of the contest.
Chair of the Jury
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