A cartoon satirising Islam has been pulled from the internet by editors of the Australian National University student newspaper, amid concerns of offence and potential for violent backlash.
The Woroni student newspaper originally published the cartoon on April 18 as part of its “Advice from Religion” infographic, the fifth in a series previously featuring Catholicism, Scientology, Mormonism and Judaism.
ANU vice-chancellor Ian Young said editors retracted the cartoon two days after it was posted online following a formal complaint to university management.
“On occasion young people overstep the mark and on this occasion, they published a cartoon which was part of a satirical set of cartoons about religion,” he said.
“This one we felt overstepped mark and we had formal complaints from international students.”
Speaking on ABC Radio on Monday, Mr Young said there was also concern about the potential for a violent backlash because of the graphic, which appeared on the backpage of the paper.
“There have been a number of cases internationally of satirical cartoons about the Koran which can have some very unfortunate side effects,” he said.
“… We felt that it actually breached the rules of the university in terms of students' conduct.”
Mr Young said he was not troubled over claims of gagging raised by the Woroni editors, who outlined their concerns over the incident’s implications for freedom of speech in a statement posted online on Sunday.
Woroni editor-in-chief Cam Wilson told Fairfax Media there was concern about the university’s reaction to the graphic created by Jamie Freestone, Mathew McGann and Todd Cooper.
“While we have had a great relationship with the Chancelry in the past, we were concerned that the university pursued individual disciplinary action against editors due to the actions of an organisation,” he said.
Mr Wilson said Woroni had received a number of complaints over the cartoon’s interpretation of the Koran, in addition to the formal complaint lodged by the ANU Students' Association's International Students' Department, but said his editorial team had also received support.
“Pieces involving religion are always going to be contentious, especially when satire is involved,” he said.
“We considered our audience – educated, engaged university students – and felt confident about initially publishing the piece.”
Mr Wilson said an apology had been issued to readers who felt victimized.
The series has continued amid the controversy, with the Greek Pantheon featuring in the latest issue published on May 16.