Otago Daily Times cartoonist not sorry for measles drawing labelled racist, but can understand why people are upset

The creator of a cartoon joking about the Samoa measles epidemic is defending it as a "simple, innocuous joke" and says he won't be issuing a public apology.

Controversial cartoon published in Otago Daily Times. Source: Twitter

Garrick Tremain's cartoon for the Otago Daily Times sparked an immediate backlash online - being labelled racist, heartless and insensitive.

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Barry Stewart’s apology outside the ODT was interrupted several times by hecklers. Source: 1 NEWS

The newspaper apologised for publishing the cartoon which it said was a deeply regrettable error in judgement. "The content and the timing of the cartoon were insensitive," Otago Daily Times editor Barry Stewart wrote.

It shows two people walking out of a travel agent and one remarking that the least popular spots right now are the ones people are picking up in Samoa.

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Garrick Tremain told First Up that while it was understandable people were upset, he won't publicly apologise to Samoa for "a simple, light-hearted joke."

"If you've read the cartoon, the basis is a travel agent taking the wrong end of the stick and making a stupid comment.

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So far 55 people have died since the epidemic was declared in mid-October and with 18 children in intensive car, the toll is expected to rise further. Source: 1 NEWS

"I can quite understand why it has upset people. It's a very poor piece of timing for such a cartoon - I'm the first to agree with that.

He said had he realised the epidemic was going to be "all over the paper" and a main item on RNZ that day he would not have presented it.

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Otago Daily Times apologises for publishing cartoon making fun of Samoa's measles epidemic

"Had I known this was happening I don't think I would have done it, but it took me by surprise that it suddenly hit full face into the news this morning.

"I know it's not a happy situation at all."

But he defended the cartoon itself.

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Helen Petousis-Harris joined TVNZ1’s Breakfast to discuss the epidemic in Samoa, where 39 people have died – mostly children. Source: Breakfast

"Obviously, I would have thought that was self evident, if I had thought it wasn't advisable or satisfactory I wouldn't have done it.

"I can later regret having done it, but at the time that did not occur to me. I thought it was an innocuous joke.

It doesn't mention anything about death or children or things that everybody else seems to be so concerned about."

Mr Tremain ruled out a public apology to Samoa.