Australian cartoonists boycott media awards over fossil fuel censorship

Walkley Awards

Walkley Awards in 2019. Screenshot from the YouTube video of Walkley Foundation

Several cartoonists will boycott Walkley Awards, Australia’s premier awards for journalism, because the sponsor for this year's event is the petroleum company, Ampol. Other participants are boycotting because the organizers failed to include a category for climate reporting.

Cartoonist Jon Kudelka was the first to announce his decision to boycott the Walkleys after learning that its first sponsor in 1956, Sir William Gaston Walkley, was the founder of the petroleum company Ampol. The company is one of the major sponsors of the Walkleys this year. He wrote about why the sponsorship is bad for climate reporting:

Whether this sponsorship influences journos or not, people seeing a bunch of allegedly well informed media types hobnobbing on a fossil fuel company’s dime makes people think well they must think this isn’t so bad so maybe it isn’t (spoiler alert: it is).

He explained his boycott decision:

The upshot is I’m not entering the Walkleys which is, to be fair, the absolute least I could do, but we all need to at least start doing the very least we could do if we’re going to turn the current rolling disaster around. It is a vanishingly small thing, and I am struggling to understand why there hasn’t been a bigger stink about it. The media needs to stop being so very bloody cosy with this sort of stuff. It is, quite frankly, a bit shit.

Kudelka learned about the history of the Walkleys through an article written by former journalist Belinda Noble.

What the Walkley Foundation needs to realise as it reviews its sponsorship policy this year is that its entanglement with big oil exposes it as a tool of the old power structures that are fuelling global warming and frustrating climate reporting.

After Kudelka, several cartoonists said they would also either boycott the awards or withdraw their entries. Cartoonist Rachel Withers tweeted her support.

I wasn't planning on entering the Walkleys, but I especially won't be entering in light of Jon's powerful stand 🔥

It's 2023, and it's simply unconscionable that the highest awards in Australian journalism are sponsored by fossil fuels, with no specific climate reporting award.

Cartoonists also shared their artworks highlighting the urgency of the climate crisis.

Cartoonist Megan Herbert reached out to the Walkley Foundation but got an unsatisfactory response.

Climate analyst Ketan Joshi has updated the list of journalists and cartoonists who will boycott the Walkleys — the number is currently at 23 people. The awarding ceremonies will take place on November 23.

The board of the Walkley Foundation acknowledged the sentiment expressed by cartoonists and vowed to revise its sponsorship policy:

The board also acknowledged recent concerns, spearheaded by cartoonists, about Ampol’s current sponsorship of the Walkley Awards. We recognise their concerns about fossil fuel sponsorship and hope to welcome them back as entrants in future years.

The Walkley Foundation is in the final stages of formalising a revised sponsorship policy which will be announced shortly.

Some writers like Michael Pascoe wrote that the cartoonists chose the wrong target in their boycott:

I greatly admire the work of Mr Kudelka and the others who have followed his lead and I respect their intentions – but I think they’ve chosen the wrong target.

I find it hard to imagine an audience more sceptical and less likely to be influenced by sponsorship than a room full of journalists, photographers and cartoonists.

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