A controversial cartoon of tennis star Serena Williams, drawn by Australian Walkley-winning cartoonist Mark Knight, did not breach media standards according to the Australian Press council.
The highly debated cartoon featured in Australia’s Herald Sun newspaper after Williams lost the drama-filled US Open final to Japan’s Naomi Osaka.
But it quickly gathered attention worldwide. Knight was heavily criticised for the way he portrayed Williams in the drawing with many calling him racist.
"I'm not targeting Serena. I mean, Serena is a champion," Knight said at the time, adding that he had “absolutely no knowledge” of the Jim Crow-era cartoons of African-Americans.
"I drew her as an African-American woman.
She's powerfully built. She wears these outrageous costumes when she plays tennis. She's interesting to draw. I drew her as she is, as an African-American woman”.
The Herald Sun also defended publishing Knight’s cartoon, saying it was not drawn in any different style to any of his other drawings over several decades.
It said it "wanted to capture the on-court tantrum of Ms Williams using satire, caricature, exaggeration and humour, and the cartoon intended to depict her behaviour as childish by showing her spitting a pacifier out while she jumps up and down”.
Williams lost the US Open final to Osaka 2-6, 4-6. Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos handed Williams a game penalty after she called him a "liar" and a "thief." Since the cartoon was published in September last year, Australia’s press watchdog received several complaints.
"Specifically, concern was expressed that the cartoon depicted Ms Williams with large lips, a broad flat nose, a wild afro-styled ponytail hairstyle different to that worn by Ms Williams during the match, and positioned in an ape-like pose," the Australian Press Council said in a statement.
"It was also noted that the cartoon should be considered in the context of the history of caricatures based on race and historical racist depictions of African-Americans”.
However, the Press Council ruled the cartoon did not breach editorial standards. It found there was sufficient public interest in commentary around sportsmanship during a "significant dispute" between a player of Williams' profile and an umpire.
"As such, the Council does not consider that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice without sufficient justification in the public interest," it concluded.
Tennis fans and fans of Williams have already taken to social media to express their disagreement with the Press Council's decision.