By Vaibhav Sharma, Faisal Arshad, Swathi R. Iyer
Humour might be the best medicine but it also one of the primary tools of presenting a critique of society. Political cartooning does not only provide a commentary on recent events but also throws lights on the issues plaguing the society.
But according to E.P Unny, the Chief Political Cartoonist, Indian Express Group, political cartooning is losing visibility in the public sphere and is on the verge of disappearance.
Speaking at a panel discussion on the future of political cartooning in India, at the Asian College of Journalism, here on Monday, Unny said “Over the years political cartooning has gradually been losing space in newspapers. If political cartooning disappears then people will stop reading newspapers.”
Unny added that this would happen because people expected the papers to tell them the truth and not simply give information.
A major part of any newspaper’s revenue comes from advertising. The growing corporatization of the media might have increased the influx of money into the profession but according to art and culture critic, Sadanand Menon, it has also reduced the freedom of a journalist.
“Now there are multiple stakes involved in publishing something in a paper,” Menon said, adding that political cartooning was presently facing an acute space crunch as most editors were wary of publishing cartoons that might hurt their owners’ business interests.
Noted cartoon critic, Sundar Ramanthiyer, echoed Menon’s view and said that political cartooning was fighting for space in other countries too.
“All over the world, the space for cartooning has been shutting down. Humour magazines are being shut down, politicians are losing their sense of humour, and corporates cannot be criticized because of financial constraints. These things are leading to the decline of circulation of political cartooning,” he said.
Apart from facing space crunch, the entire art of cartooning had undergone a shift, the panelists said.
Keshav, political cartoonist for the Hindu, said that the traditional minimalism associated with cartoons was fading away as black and white cartoons were being replaced by coloured ones.
Ajith Ninan, political cartoonist for The Times of India, said that the increased competition among newspapers to get more eyeballs led to what he called the “magzinisation” of newspapers. He said that the growing importance given to advertising in an organization had led to editorial cartoonists focusing more on the presentation of their cartoons instead of the content.
While pointing out that the present situation for political cartooning appeared to be gloomy, the panelists were hopeful about the future.
Keshav said that now there were multiple avenues available for a political cartoonist to showcase his work.
“If you are not getting space in newspapers, then you always have the option of putting your work on the internet. On the web the cartoon would reach a larger audience in a short period of time,” he said.
Although political cartooning was fighting for space in newspapers and was dictated by external agents, Keshav said that the art would continue to be relevant in a society.
“Cartooning is a negative art that highlights the misdeeds of the establishment. Till the time there are protests against those in power, cartoons will continue to be present,” he said.
The panel discussion was a part of a daylong symposium on editorial art, organized to honour the memory of late R.K. Laxman and Rajinder Puri, the two stalwarts of political cartooning.