Complaint against cartoonist rejected

Last updated 08:56 11/06/2013
Joanna Norris
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ
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The Press Council has not upheld a complaint from Peter Bolot, who took issue with a Malcolm Evans cartoon published in The Press (Feb 22, 2013).

The cartoon, entitled "Plain Packaging", featured eight panels resembling newspaper billboards. Seven referred to current New Zealand issues, with a comment diagonally across each. The eighth had the words "Israel and the Palestinians" with the word "Apartheid" diagonally across it.

Bolot said while he accepted that cartoons were allowed greater leeway, this one was offensive and racist, and exhibited obsessional hatred towards Israel. He said Evans' history of work with the New Zealand Herald and The Press showed he had an established hatred of Israel.

The editor of The Press, Joanna Norris, responded that Israel was not particularly singled out in the cartoon but was part of a scattergun set of comments on issues on which Evans wished to express a view that day.

Cartoonists had a certain licence to comment on issues. Cartoons were understood to be opinion. They were not required to be fair and balanced and often took a striking view one way or another on a controversial topic.

The suggestion that Israel was an apartheid state was not particularly novel, and Wikipedia even had a long, detailed entry about this. While it was a controversial or even extreme proposition, and it was not one that The Press endorsed, expressing that opinion was not displaying blind prejudice, or bigotry.

Norris did not know of any interest held by the cartoonist that compromised his opinions on Israel or anything else.

"He has strong opinions on Israel, as he has on many other subjects. That does not constitute a conflict of interest. Strong views are, in general, almost a qualification for a good cartoonist," she said.

The Press Council said that its principles on comment and fact made it clear that cartoons were opinion.

The Evans cartoon was opinion and published on a page clearly identified as such. It did not cross the boundary of racist or hate speech.

Cartoonists have the right to express their views, which can provoke or upset.

In this case, while the inclusion of the Israel reference in a cartoon largely about New Zealand issues might seem unusual, the cartoonist was free to do so.

The Press Council said that Bolot's claim that its conflict of interest principle had been contravened was also not accepted.

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There is no conflict of interests when a cartoonist expresses a strong view which he holds. Nor was his claim about the principle of accuracy, fairness and balance.

Fairness and balance are not requirements in a cartoon.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.

People with a complaint should first complain in writing to the editor of the publication and then, if not satisfied with the response, complain to the Press Council. Complaints can be lodged using the online complaint form or addressed to the Executive Director, PO Box 10 879, The Terrace, Wellington. www.presscouncil.org.nz.

- The Press

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