KIWIS FOR BALANCED REPORTING ON THE MIDEAST AGAINST SUNDAY STAR-TIMES

Case Number: 2067

Council Meeting: MARCH 2009

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Cartoons
Accuracy

Introduction
Rodney Brooks, chairman of the group Kiwis for Balanced Reporting on the Mideast, has complained about the accuracy of the words in a Bromhead cartoon published in the Sunday Star Times on January 11. He also complains that errors he pointed out went uncorrected.
The cartoon depicted an Israeli soldier firing a machine gun. A speech bubble contained the words: “Ten innocents, one Hamas… Twenty innocents, Two Hamas… Thirty innocents…”
The complaint is not upheld.

The Complaints
Mr Brooks acknowledges that cartoonists have latitude in their depictions, but argues that untruths should not be allowed. He says Israeli and United Nations authorities (as reported in the Jerusalem Post) had found the opposite of what the cartoon claimed: in fact, more Hamas had been killed than “innocents”.
The statement was not a justifiable or harmless exaggeration, he says, but an out-and-out untruth akin to “Jews kill Christian babies and drink their blood” claims made by anti-Semites over the centuries. A cartoonist would not get away with ascribing uncommitted crimes to an individual; the same standards of accuracy should apply to a nation.
A request to the newspaper for a correction had been refused, leaving the 10-to-one ratio uncontested.

The Newspaper’s Response
Newspaper editor Mitchell Murphy responds that his paper’s columnists and cartoonists are employed to express their opinions, as happened in this case. Not all readers would agree with the positions espoused all of the time.
The cartoon had been published on a page marked “Comment and Review”.

Further Correspondence
In further correspondence, Mr Brooks cites an earlier Press Council ruling (Case 2045), which included: “it would seem wise for a newspaper…to take every care that all important, disputed issues are corrected, as much to the aggrieved party’s wishes as possible”.

Discussion
Mr Murphy – and Mr Brooks – are correct: cartoonists and columnists are afforded more latitude in their work than reporters. It is widely understood that such work comprises the opinion of the cartoonist or writer. It is not unusual for a cartoonist to use hyperbole.
The issue of accuracy in relation to the figures cited in the cartoon is impossible to resolve. However, a cartoonist is entitled to make the point that civilian Palestinians of Gaza suffered heavy losses.
In a generalised cartoon, the figures beginning, “Ten innocents…” are unlikely to have been taken by anyone as an exact count or ratio of Palestinian civilian and Hamas deaths resulting from the Israeli incursion.
The cited Press Council comment, Case 2045, referred to a complaint in relation to disputed issues arising out of clear and repeated newspaper error. The observation, that important disputed facts should be corrected, sits in a markedly different context from a cartoonist’s opinion about inequities of suffering in a global conflict.

Conclusion
The cartoonist had the right to highlight his views about civilian deaths incurred in an international conflict.
The complaints are therefore not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, John Gardner, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Alan Samson and Lynn Scott.