Outcry misses point - editor

20:29, May 30 2013
Steve Mason
Explosive comment: Marlborough Express editor Steve Mason spent yesterday fielding calls on the cartoon which Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy found appalling and offensive

The most important issue behind a cartoon published in the Marlborough Express on Wednesday was the plight of children going to school with empty stomachs, editor Steve Mason says.

That issue had been overtaken by criticism from throughout the country yesterday that the cartoon by Al Nisbet was racist and offensive.

"Let's not lose sight of the important discussion here, which is why the Government and individual companies are having to put funding into providing breakfast for children so they can concentrate in class," Mr Mason said.

"Families throughout the country are unable to adequately feed their children, whether that is because they are trying to survive on the minimum wage, because both parents are working and are not at home to supervise their children in the morning, or because the parents spend their money on other things.

"I'm disappointed the cartoon hasn't stimulated more discussion on that issue."

While it was provocative, there was never any intention to offend people. "It was close to the line, but there are times on important issues where you do need to push the boundaries, the main objective obviously being to stimulate discussion on a really important issue."

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Mr Mason said he had spent the day fielding calls and answering emails on the cartoon, including some from the Marlborough region. It had also been widely discussed on social media, on radio and on television.

The public response had covered a wide range of opinions on the value of the cartoon.

As of 8am today, a poll on the Express website showed 3460 people felt offended by the cartoon, while more than 10,540 said they were not.

A cartoon on the same subject, also by Al Nisbet, was published in The Press yesterday.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy was drawn into the debate, saying she found the cartoons appalling and offensive, although they did not reach the "very high" threshold required for a finding of racism within the commission's inquiries and complaints process.

"Perhaps it is not right that the threshold is that high", but that was a matter for the Government, she said.

The Human Rights Commission could still address the issue, and she encouraged people to complain to the commission, to the editors and to the Press Council.

The cartoons were a case of wrongful stereotyping and stigmatised people who lived in poverty, particularly children, Dame Susan said.

The cartoons were stereotyping Polynesian people as spending their money on cigarettes and gambling.

"That is wrong. Some of those families will, also will some Pakeha families.

"It continues to perpetuate that myth," she said.

"Some parents living in poverty do their very, very, very best to feed their children, and probably don't even rely on food in schools and other things."

She would be contacting the editors and called on them to apologise for running the cartoons.

There was a right to freedom of expression and speech, and people could say and print what they liked even if it was offensive, but they needed to act responsibly, she said.

The Marlborough Express