An Australian newspaper just showed the world what it really means to throw a tantrum.

It all started with the best of intentions; just a family man, doing his job – taking the piss out of the world’s biggest news stories.

But it’s ended with an Australian newspaper front page which is the media equivalent of smashing your racquet on a tennis court in anger.

It’s an end that makes me want to say what I often say to my young son: I’m not angry, I’m disappointed.

Because with a little bit of understanding, it could have been avoided.

Yesterday, Australian news publication the Herald Sun ran a cartoon by satirist Mark Knight, in response to tennis champion Serena Williams’ outburst at the US Open. Knight was just doing what satirists do when he drew Williams, depicting her response to a ‘coaching’ allegation from umpire Carlos Ramos.

Williams had vehemently defended herself to Ramos, accusing him of sexism, when she was penalised a game after what he deemed to be three code violations. At one point, the tennis superstar threw her tennis racquet on the court with such force that it was crushed.

Ultimately, Williams lost the match to the better player on the day, Naomi Osaka. But, many argue, she also lost face.

Since then, the world has very much enjoyed the debate over her on-court behaviour; was Williams right, or a sore loser? Was she standing up for herself, or chucking a tantrum?

Well, the Herald Sun seemed to think the latter – which is why they ran Knight’s cartoon:

Serena Williams cartoon Mark Knight
The cartoon by Mark Knight. Source: The Herald Sun

The depiction of Williams is not flattering - but then, satire rarely is.

However, this particular cartoon attracted worldwide condemnation, and social media backlash, for being racist. Many influential people including author J.K. Rowling, and our own Waleed Aly, criticised the drawing for being a stereotype, unfair, demeaning, full of unconscious bias.

"Serena's actually absent from the picture," Aly said on The Project last night.


“So at that point, what the critics are saying is you’re no longer caricaturing Serena, you’re caricaturing a people.”

Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston on Tuesday defended Knight.

“A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage, and Mark’s cartoon depicted that. It had nothing to do with gender or race.”

Knight himself also defended his work, denying he was racist, and explaining that in the past, he has defended Adam Goodes against his on-field racist experiences.

But this morning, the newspaper's defence of its position was taken to the next level with this front page: the ultimate "fuck you" to all the naysayers.


As you can see, the cover includes a reprint of Knight’s caricature of Williams, with satirical cartoons of Donald Trump, Tony Abbott and Pauline Hanson. But it was the headline which made the newspaper's position clear:


It also included the text, "Satire free zone", and "If the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed."


Let's just say we're not angry, we're disappointed, because this response to the backlash is basically that of a three-nager.

The front page is chin-in-the-air, Trump-esque, blanket defiance. Which is comical, considering the whole point of Knight's cartoon was to make fun of Williams' own "tantrum".

But more importantly, there's a missed learning opportunity here, and that's the most disappointing thing.

I understand the job of a satirist is the tease and provoke and exaggerate. I know the Herald Sun is a mouthpiece for its readers and plays an important role in voicing how they feel about current events. I acknowledge that we all have different opinions, and everyone is entitled to theirs.



Please let me suggest this to any person who feels the way the Herald Sun does today: if the world has responded in backlash, maybe, just maybe, you could listen?

Perhaps you could learn from this incident about being more aware of how your work could be interpreted - not just by you, not just by your readers - but by the much wider world. Because it exists in that world - not just your bubble.


In America, for a black American woman, there's context, and history - and in the Trump era, those sensitivities are heightened.

To put it bluntly, this controversy is not just about this newspaper cartoon. And while you may not feel there is an issue here, there is a whole group of people for whom there is a huge one - and Williams is part of that group. You can't ignore that fact.

It is not remotely surprising that this cartoon has received so much American backlash - because it's hit a nerve on a very American issue.

This is about a process that started 400 years ago, with African slavery in America. And it's a fight that's still ongoing in the form of movements such as #BlackLivesMatter today.

Even civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King Jnr's daughter, Bernice King, commented on the cartoon, calling for sensitivity.


And speaking as a woman of colour myself, who has endured a lot of unconscious bias in her life; whilst I appreciate everyone's right to express to their opinion, I admit I was disappointed only just a little by the cartoon - but a lot by this morning's response.

I'm not asking anyone who sides with Knight to be 'gracious in defeat', because there's no 'defeat'. Just something to think about for the future.

That's actually all any of the backlash wants - a little consideration - not a "you're not the boss of me" response.

So please, take a moment to consider what some of the world's most influential people are saying - because there's a reason they're saying it.

In the absence of any attempt to understand, this will be the front page tantrum that will be heard around the world.