Roundtable 4A | Editorial Cartoons: COVID-19, Politicians and Death

COVID-19, politicians and death: Representations of the Pandemic in Australian, South African and British editorial cartoons (2020-21)
Emma Weitkamp (University of the West of England)
Elena Milani (University of the West of England)
Marina Joubert (Stellenbosch University)
Michelle Riedlinger (Queensland University of Technology)


As the novel coronavirus outbreak and Covid-19 pandemic unfolds around the globe, citizens of the world are collectively living through an exceptional time in history. One of the characteristics of the pandemic is intensive coverage in the media. Such coverage is likely to also affect representations of the pandemic in popular culture more broadly. The most pertinent societal ramifications of the pandemic are captured daily by editorial cartoonists in print and online media, helping to shape the visual representation of the pandemic more broadly within society. In this roundtable, the research team will present preliminary findings of a study focussed on the representation of the coronavirus pandemic in three countries: Australia, South Africa and the UK. The study is an analysis of editorial cartoons published in Sunday newspapers from January 2020 – June 2021. We collected cartoons from two nationally-read newspapers in each country, with each representing differing political orientations. Our analysis suggests that the differing experiences of these countries in respect of the pandemic (e.g. from badly hit UK, which faced several long periods of lockdown, but also achieved a successful vaccine role out, to Australia which faced relatively few lockdowns, but whose borders were shut and where vaccine hesitancy has proved problematic) has influenced the ways in which the pandemic is represented visually. For example, visual representations of COVID-19 dominate the cartoons explored in the UK, whereas in South Africa an initial period of high interest is followed by relatively little focus on COVID-19; Australia shows an intermediate pattern. Our study explored representations of the virus, personal protective equipment (e.g. face masks), politicians and death across the three countries, showing striking differences between countries and between newspapers within countries. We consider the role of editorial cartoons in the circulation of information about COVID-19.