JOHN SHONE AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Case Number: 2446
Council Meeting: JUNE 2015
Verdict: Not Upheld
Publication: New Zealand Herald
John Shone claims a Rod Emmerson cartoon published by The Weekend Herald on April 4, 2015, is blasphemous and denigrates Jesus Christ and Christian beliefs. No specific Press Council principles are cited.
The complaint is not upheld.
The cartoon is headlined Jeremy Clarkson’s Last Supper and reflects da Vinci’s famous painting of Jesus’ last supper with his 12 disciples.
Clarkson is quoted in the cartoon as saying, “... the food is cold, the wine’s not from NZ, and one of you is about to get a fat lip from me”. Others are quoted as saying, “... you’ll be crucified for this…” and “he’ll be back”.
The cartoon ran about a month after Clarkson was sacked from BBC show Top Gear, reportedly for punching one of the show’s producers. Clarkson has had a chequered broadcasting career that has included several widely publicised incidents.
The complainant says the cartoon is “blasphemous in the extreme” and both visually and textually denigrating to Jesus and Christian sentiment.
The Weekend Herald is guilty of deliberately treating Christians and Christianity with contempt, ridicule and disregard during the most Holy time (Easter).
The editor-in-chief of the NZ Herald, which publishes The Weekend Herald, counters the claims of blasphemy and contempt, saying that although the image borrowed from the Last Supper, it was a mild attempt which made no attempt to portray Christ or Christians or make comment on their belief.
The cartoon was timed to coincide with Easter.
Senior editorial staff at the Herald didn’t set out to injure people’s beliefs and, in fact, considered such matters with great care.
Emmerson’s cartoon did not hurt or insult anyone other than the “puffed-up” Clarkson.
Discussion and Decision
There is no more important principle in a democracy than freedom of expression. The Press Council’s own principles state that such freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of the media and, in fact, one of the functions of the Council is to lobby on such matters.
The Council has strongly supported the right of cartoonists to express their views. (See for example: Case Number 2421 Jack Ruben v The Dominion Post; 2261 Hall v The Dominion Post; 2067 Kiwis for Balanced Reporting on the Middle East v Sunday Star-Times; 2269 Bolot v The Press; 2243 The Canterbury Refugee Council v The Press).
Publications should not place gratuitous emphasis on religion in reporting. However, The Weekend Herald’s cartoon is an expression of the cartoonist’s opinion.
Although it has clearly offended the complainant, the complainant does not have the right not to be offended.
The cartoon does not breach any Press Council principles and, as such, is not upheld.
Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.
John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.