Labour MP Louisa Wall has laid a human rights complaint over controversial cartoons run in two newspapers, claiming they promoted racial disharmony.
Cartoons about the Government's breakfast in schools programme by Al Nisbet ran in the Marlborough Express and The Press in May.
Wall and a group called Warriors of Change have laid a claim with the Human Rights Review Tribunal against the two papers and their owner, Fairfax New Zealand. Warriors of Change is a South Auckland youth group.
The tribunal deals with unlawful discrimination and its decisions are legally binding.
Papers filed with the tribunal claim the cartoons were insulting and brought Maori and Pacific people into contempt.
Express editor Steve Mason and Press editor Joanna Norris said they would defend the action.
Mr Mason said Nisbet's cartoon for the Express provoked an important discussion on the merits of the food in schools policy.
"We will defend it vigorously," he said. "We never intended to cause offence. The intention was to promote discussion on issues that affect our readers."
Ms Norris said she was happy to engage in a vigorous discussion of the issues raised by Al Nisbet's cartoons.
"We do not agree the cartoon published in The Press resulted in racial disharmony, as claimed.
"The Press supports freedom of expression, even where the views expressed are unpopular or distasteful to some people."
At a press conference the day after publication, Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy encouraged people to complain to the Human Rights Commission.
The cartoons did not reach the level of racism under her organisation's inquiries and complaints process, Dame Susan said.
The threshold under the law was "very high" and related to inciting racial disharmony, she said. Lowering it was a matter for the Government.
She said the Marlborough Express cartoon was offensive, stereotyped "certain populations" and stigmatised the poor..
Nisbet had said he was not racist, and the cartoons were not intended to be so. Rather, they were directed at anyone who complained about poverty and "blow their money on booze, fags and pokies". Fairfax NZ
- The Marlborough Express