'Racist' cartoon slammed

Cartoonist: 'I think people should lighten up'

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 12:14 30/05/2013
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Fairfax-published cartoons poking fun at the Government's breakfasts in schools programme has created a national social media storm.

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

The cartoons, by Qantas Media 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 Maori or Pacific Island.

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

The Press cartoon featured what appears to be a rotund group of seven, surrounded by 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."

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

"Nisbet's cartoon is racist. It's a pictorial expression of 'You dumb poor Maoris are bludgers'. Print that, Marlborough Express," one tweeter said.

The Government yesterday unveiled a $9.5 million KickStart school breakfast programme to subsidise Weet-Bix and milk breakfasts in schools over the next five years.

The two-days-a-week programme will be extended to five days a week in decile 1-4 schools in term three and all schools will be eligible from next year.

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.

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

In her statement, Devoy said newspapers and cartoonists have the right to publish what they see fit but needed to act with responsibility.

Devoy would be writing to newspaper editors to seek a meeting to discuss the issue.

The Press editor Joanna Norris said the newspaper had received three complaints this morning about the paper's cartoon. She was unaware of the Marlborough Express cartoon until today.

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

"The Press has an editorial line on the food for schools programme and it is that we believe Government investment needs to go to supporting the most vulnerable members of our communities to ensure they have the resources to make good decisions on behalf of their families."

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.

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

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".

Mason was expecting some feedback, and most of the outcry had been national, rather than from his own readers.

"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?"

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.

"I was born in Scotland, we get stereotyped all the time. But you don't hear Scots complaining because they've got a sense of humour.

"I think people should lighten up a bit."

Nisbet said he was not racist, and the cartoons were not intended to be so.

Rather, it was directed at anyone who complained about poverty and "blow their money on booze, fags and pokies".

The main idea with the Marlborough Express cartoon was adults dressing up as children.

Some of the characters were dark because it was mainly northern schools taking up the programme, he said.

"They [complainers] always point at the dark figures, they never look at the white ones."

Maori affairs blogger Morgan Godfery said the cartoons were "playing to a familiar script" and were designed to cause "maximum offence".

"Two brown parents - either Maori or Pasifika - playing to a familiar script. Add an element of classism and fat shaming and you have a cartoon that 'promotes discussion'. Poverty isn't funny, though.

"Race is a proxy for class. The cartoons recognise that and mix the two for maximum offence. Not in an ironic, making a deep social comment sort of way, but in crass play at the readers prejudice.

"In an ideal world the media would be better than that, but not the Marlborough Express and the Christchurch Press." 

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."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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