EAMON SLOAN AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2575

Council Meeting: APRIL 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Cartoons
Nudity and Indecency
Taste Lack of

Overview

1. Eamon Sloan complains that a cartoon by Tom Scott published in The Dominion Post on February 11 breached Principle 1 because it crosses the line into indecency.

The complaint is not upheld.

2. On February 11 this year The Dominion Post published a cartoon by Tom Scott depicting a half-dressed President Trump and the Statue of Liberty in an pose that can be taken to suggest they have just engaged in sexual intercourse. The words, “How was it for you?” are attributed to Trump.


The Complaint

3..Mr Sloan believes the cartoon crosses the line into indecency. He references the fairness section of Principle 1 on the grounds that the cartoon is offensive, demeaning to women, and deals gratuitously in sexual innuendo, even violence.

4. The complainant says he is not contesting The Dominion Post’s right to freedom of expression, but says there is a reasonable expectation that the newspaper would maintain a consistent and comprehensive code of decency.

5. Mr Sloan also complains that The Dominion Post did not publish a “strongly worded, highly critical” letter he wrote to the editor, describing the cartoon as “perverted” and “up there” with Tom Scott’s “most repulsive efforts”.

6. By ignoring critical letters, he says, The Dominion Post carefully shields itself within its culture of indifference.

7. By extending unbridled privilege to the cartoonist, The Dominion Post fails to maintain the expected standards of decency. Readers are not in a position to evade any objectionable cartoon material.The Dominion Post is a family newspaper, he says, and should remind itself that newspapers are available to all ages.

8. In his summary, the complainant says he is confounded as to why newspapers are unable to apply a consistent decency code to the field of cartooning and opinion. He also questioned why the Press Council fails to be proactive in promoting improved standards of decency, and challenged it to adopt a stricter policy to promote decency within free speech.

The Response

9. In her response to the complainant, the editor-in-chief of The Dominion Post, Bernadette Courtney, outlined the newspaper’s position on cartoons, which she said are an integral part of the newspaper’s opinion pages and “as such can be provocative and challenge readers”. She acknowledged that not all cartoons or opinion pieces will sit comfortably with all readers.

10. Ms Courtney says she has the right not to publish material that does not meet the newspaper’s standards, but she does not believe in censorship.

11. She said Mr Scott is an award-winning cartoonist and one of the country’s best. As such he is given a wide licence.

12. She said she did not plan to apologise for his work.

13. Ms Courtney said The Dominion Post receives many letters, often critical, and has never shied away from printing a differing view. In the case of the Tom Scott cartoon, two letters were received, Mr Sloan’s, and another, which was published. Both were similar in their condemnation, but “two letters is not a reader outcry”.

The Decision

14. As the complainant himself states, the Statue of Liberty is a stock-in-trade stereotype and since President Trump took office at the start of 2017, there have been many cartoons published depicting him in compromising poses with the statue; many of these are sexualized, some not.

15. Whether or not Tom Scott’s cartoon crosses a line into indecency is the basis of this complaint, but this is very much a matter of personal opinion. Although Mr Sloan complained under Principle 1, this complaint in fact belongs under Principle 5, Columns Blogs, Opinion and Letters, which clearly states, “Cartoons are understood to be opinion.”

16. Cartoons in the media represent freedom of speech at its most extreme interpretation. By their very nature, they are confronting, challenging and sometimes offensive. As has been noted by the Press Council many times before, with opinion and cartoons, readers do not have the right not to be offended.

17. In line with previous decisions on complaints about cartoons, we do not considerThe Dominion Post to have breached either Principle 1 or Principle 5.

18. Mr Sloan also challenges the Press Council to do more to promote decency within free speech. The Press Council’s mandate on this is quite clear. The Preamble states: There is no more important principle in a democracy than freedom of expression. Freedom of expression and freedom of the media are inextricably bound. The print media is jealous in guarding freedom of expression, not just for publishers' sake but, more importantly, in the public interest. In dealing with complaints, the Council will give primary consideration to freedom of expression and the public interest. In this case, a newspaper cartoon which highlights the concerns people the world over have about Donald Trump’s style of presidency fall without a doubt into the domain of public interest.

19. The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Ruth Buddicom, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Hank Schouten, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.