'Racist' cartoon slammed

Al Nisbet's cartoon published in the Marlborough Express on May 29.
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Al Nisbet's cartoon published in the Marlborough Express on May 29.
Al Nisbet's cartoon published in The Press on May 30.
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Al Nisbet's cartoon published in The Press on May 30.

Cartoons poking fun at the Government's breakfasts in schools programme have created a national social media storm.

Some readers turned to Twitter to vent their disgust, calling them "racist" and "poor-bashing".

The cartoons, by award-winning cartoonist Al Nisbet, were printed in the Marlborough Express yesterday and The Press today.

The Marlborough Express cartoon featured a group of adults dressed in school uniforms heading to school with bowls in hands. Among them are a man and woman who look to be Maori or Pasifika.

The man says to the woman, who has a cigarette hanging from her mouth: "Psst. If we can get away with this, the more cash left for booze, smokes and pokies."

The Press cartoon featured a rotund group of seven people with Lotto tickets, beer cans and cigarette packets.

The man says: "Free school food is great. Eases our poverty and puts something in you kids' bellies."

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy has described the cartoon as "sadly insensitive to the issue of children living in poverty".

"The worst aspect, in my opinion, is that it stigmatises efforts to address the situation that sees too many of our children living in poverty," she said.

"Beyond that, it is glaringly obvious that the cartoon portrays Maori or Pacific [people] as the butt of its attempted humour. Using such negative stereotypes in this way is insulting and derogatory in the extreme."

Devoy said newspapers and cartoonists had the right to publish what they saw fit but needed to act with responsibility.

She would write to newspaper editors to seek a meeting to discuss the issue.

Speaking with Sean Plunket on RadioLive, Devoy called for people to send in their complaints. "It's caused an understandable fury out there."

She said that although no official complaints had been lodged, she encouraged people to complain.

When Plunket asked her to clarify whether she was soliciting complaints, she said she hoped that people who had expressed their displeasure on social media would do the same through official channels.

Twitter users called the cartoons "poor-bashing" and "stereotype to disgust".

The Press editor Joanna Norris said the newspaper had received three complaints this morning about the paper's cartoon.

"It's not a question of whether I stand by the cartoon or not. The cartoon ... is clearly marked as opinion," she said.

Norris said the cartoon that ran in The Press depicted people from a range of ethnic backgrounds, although it was hard to tell the intent in terms of the relationship of the people to one another.

"What we do know is Maori and Pacific Islanders are over-represented in our most vulnerable demographics," she said.

Marlborough Express editor Steve Mason said he stood by his decision to run the cartoon.

He said it was designed to stimulate discussion and had "certainly done that".

"It uses stereotypes to highlight an important issue. I can see that may be seen to be racist [but] it certainly didn't set out to be racist. There are old people there; is it ageist?" he said.

Nisbet said the outcry was unexpected as he had done "a hell of a lot worse".

"Obviously the cartoon worked. It got reaction. You've got to push the envelope otherwise you have namby pamby PC cartoons," he said.

"I think people should lighten up a bit."

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell said the cartoon was racist. "It's way out of line and it's racist."

He called on Devoy to take action on the cartoon, and if the law meant the cartoon did not meet the threshold of racism under the law, then the law should change.

National MP Tau Henare asked what Maori had done to deserve that kind of joking at their expense.

"All my mokopuna [grandchildren] see are big Maori with a smoke hanging out their mouth. That's not what their parents are, that's not what their grandparents hopefully are," he said.

"It's just got to stop, and people in positions of power like a cartoonist for a newspaper should know better."

NZ First leader Winston Peters said it was not clear whether the cartoon was depicting Maori or Pacific people.

"It's a bit confusing because I don't recall seeing many Island women or Maori women with a ribbon in their hair the way the cartoon image is, so it's a bit difficult to work it out."

Asked if it was racist, Peters said it could not be if the people depicted were not Maori or Pacific Islanders. 

TWEETS

"Hilarious. Would have gone down really well in apartheid South Africa."

"The irony of putting a cartoon like that on a page titled 'Insight' ... 'Al Nisbet Today' ... gone tomorrow please."

"Well, I sure am looking forward to Michael Laws' column this weekend about the PC lynch mob going after Al Nisbet for just telling the truth."

"Cheers to Al Nisbet, festering pustule on the buttock of the profession of satire, for dragging racist discourse into the light of day."

"Can someone just whack Al Nisbet on the nose with a rolled up newspaper?"

"I no we all joke about the lack of culture in the South Island but this is something else." [sic]

The Press