HILARY PHILLIPS AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2558

Council Meeting: JANUARY 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Cartoons
Offensive Language

Overview

Hilary Phillips has complained about a cartoon published in The Dominion Post on 9 January 2017, which depicted Foreign Minister Murray McCully as David and Israel as Goliath.

The complaint is not upheld.

The Complaint

Ms Phillips complains that the cartoon twists the Jewish story of David and Goliath, in a way that is at best distasteful and at worst inflammatory. In her view it is a part of the questionable materialThe Dominion Post has published on Israel, which may engender hatred against Israel and Jewish people in New Zealand. In making her complaint she has not cited a specific principle.

The Response

In a brief response to Ms Phillips, the editor Bernadette Courtenay says the David and Goliath cartoon is opinion and clearly marked as such. The paper has published varying views on Israel/Palestinian issues. Cartoonists have scope for a view, as their work is opinion. The editor says it is not her intention to censor their work or to apologise for the cartoon.

The Decision

In late December 2016, just before its term ended as a member of the United Nations Security Council, New Zealand co-sponsored a resolution calling on Israel to stop building settlements on occupied Palestinian land. The US abstained, rather than taking its more usual position of vetoing resolutions critical of Israel. Strong opinions on both sides of the issue were expressed over the following days, in New Zealand and internationally. It was reported that the Israeli Prime Minister had phoned Mr McCully to say that New Zealand’s action amounted to nothing less than a declaration of war; the Israeli ambassador to New Zealand was abruptly withdrawn. Palestinians are reported to have viewed the resolution as a rare victory for their cause. Some public commentary suggested that New Zealand’s was “brave” to annoy Israel. The cartoon responds to the Security Council resolution and its aftermath.

Relevant to the complaint is the Press Council Principle concerning Columns, Blogs Opinion and Letters, which says that cartoons are understood to be opinion.

The cartoon was opinion and clearly identifiable as such. With comment and opinion, balance is not essential. However, the editor says a number of stories and letters were published around the same time, which put forward views on both sides of the issues. In an editorial on the same page and immediately adjacent to the cartoon, the paper refers to the “lunatic fringe” who still quote from “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” which “has long been exposed as a crude fraud”.

In previous complaints the Press Council has noted that cartoonists may express their own opinions and in doing so may cause disquiet, or offend individuals and groups. The complainant has a right to have concerns, and a different view from the cartoonist. The cartoonist also has a right to express his opinion. The Council must balance the complainant’s concerns with the freedom of expression necessary in a democracy.

While we acknowledge the complainant’s real concerns, in the Council’s view the right to freedom of speech outweighs her contention that the cartoon is distasteful and inflammatory.The Dominion Post has not breached the Press Council’s principles in publishing the cartoon.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Ruth Buddicom, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.