Mike Peters and Café de Colombia

· Journalism

mikepertersandfedecafeA reflection on Freedom of Press and rights of a country

A month ago cartoonist Mike Peters tasted a bitter coffee. Café de Colombia is promoted worldwide as the best aroma coffee and became a national proud for Colombians. It is also the first product of exportation and keeps a big share of its GDP at the side of flowers, diamonds, oil, gold, bananas and other products. In a nation that is considered the first global producer of cocaine, it is understandable that legal products mean not only incomes for its economy, but dignity and opportunities for development. To say that coffee is the first Colombian product, means thousand of families that live from it and not by growing coca plants in the forests. However, at the other site we have the issue of freedom of press.

For those who think that comics are silly, we need to inform that it is not like that. Cartoonist are journalists at the same level they are artists. Under such condition, cartoonists have the same responsibility of any journalist in been objective in their statements. Maybe several cartoons can be considered only art by art. Maybe several of them are garbage. But many of them have the same effect of regular journalism.

In Latin America we have the example of Mafalda of Quino and what that cartoon meant for the history of freedom of press, politics and society in Argentina. In Colombia the case is cartoonist Ricardo Rendón, who committed suicide. To see the arts of Rendón is to see the political history of Colombia during the first half of the 20th century.

The cartoon of Peters on Colombian coffee

The cartoon was published on 2nd January in some US newspapers. It refers to crime in Colombia mentioning coffee and the popular Juan Valdez.

“Y’know, there’s a big crime syndicate in Colombia. So when they say there’s a little bit of Juan Valdez in every can, maybe they’re not kidding.”

The comic brought the fury of the powerful federation of coffee growers (under the abbreviation in Spanish of Fedecafé.) The federation declared that the Peters comic was a “damage and harm, detriment to intellectual property and defamation.”

To the federation, Peters was associating the well known organized crime of Colombia with the honest work of the coffee growers. At the same time, it was affecting the image of the product when it touches the reputation of Juan Valdez, that is an icon and symbol.

In that case, the federation announced to sue Peters for U$ 20 million dollars.

“I love Colombia”

Mike Peters declared after that he did not want to make any offense, that he drinks coffee and that he loves Colombia. He asked excuses in the office of the federation in New York.

Peters said to Associated Press:

“I thought this was a humorous subject and all my Mother Goose and Grimm cartoons are meant to make people laugh. I truly intended no insult.”

Laughing on free press

Well, here we have a great discussion to start:

Are comics out of journalist ethics? Can comics say whatever? Are comics invited to follow the procedures of regular journalism?

Surely the discussion is made to long. Peters himself says that comics are intended to make people laugh. If we put rules to comedy, it just would lost its essence as something funny. But the action of the coffee growers teach us also of the social responsibility of comics. Shortly after, a Colombian cartoonist Alberto Martínez, Betto, from El Espectador newspaper, published a drawing on the medal given by George Bush to Álvaro Uribe. The drawing reflected the critics of the Bush recognizance to his Latin American ally.

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