By no means breaking news, but still a curious and interesting cartoon-related Danish incident: A few weeks ago, Director General of DR (Denmark’s Radio, the state-sponsored public service radio and TV network), Kenneth Plummer, was offended by a cartoon by Roald Als, published in the daily newspaper Politiken. The cartoon depicts Plummer as a lazy watchdog in chains. The sign on his doghouse reads ‘The Dog Bites – not’, and indicates that Plummer is hired to obey the Danish Liberal-conservative Government (but doing a bad job of it). Next to him, with the whip, is the Minister of Culture Brian Mikkelsen, while Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, dressed in a caveman outfit (as always in Als’ cartoons), says: “He’s a lousy watchdog! A pinko lackey just passed him!” (this refers to the government’s long-held perception of DR as a left-leaning organization).

Plummer felt so offended by this that he emailed Politiken‘s editor-in-chief, Tøger Seidenfaden, to complain about it, asking the latter to instruct the cartoonist to refrain from depicting Plummer that way again. Daily tabloid Ekstra Bladet (same publisher as Politiken) got hold of the email and now claims that Kenneth Plummer feels offended by the depiction of him in chains because his family apparently descends from slaves (Plummer refuses to explain this aspect to Ekstra Bladet‘s reporter, but says his children are having a hard time because of the cartoon). According to Ekstra Bladet, Seidenfaden is “not impressed by the complaint”, while Als says: “If Plummer shows himself as a man, and defends DR‘s journalists against political pressure, then, of course, I will cease to depict him as watchdog for the Minister of Culture”.

Indeed, the climate in post-Mohammad crisis Denmark is, unsurprisingly, still very volatile when it comes to matters of freedom of speech, but recently certain events have made political pressure on journalists a hot potato as well: two weeks ago, it was revealed that Brian Mikkelsen, criticized DR‘s coverage of the war in Iraq back in 2003, in an email sent to DR‘s then Chairman of the Board, Jørgen Kleener. Mikkelsens action has widely been perceived as political pressure, and as thus violates DR‘s independence of political interests and integrity; it is of course aspects of this incident Roald Als’ cartoon adresses.

Illustration (detail): Roald Als