MIKE HOULDING AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2514

Council Meeting: JUNE 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Cartoons
Offensive Language
Taste Lack of
Tragedies, Offensive Handling of
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Mike Houlding complained that a cartoon published in The New Zealand Herald was in breach of Principle 1 of the Press Council principles (accuracy, fairness and balance).He also mentions Principle 5 (columns, blogs, opinion and letters) and Principle 6 (Headlines and Captions).

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

Background

On May 30, 2016, the New Zealand Herald published a cartoon titled Guy Body’s view.The cartoon deals with the upcoming American election.

The cartoon depicted a character which resembled King Kong with what appears to be a Donald Trump face and hair climbing up the side of the U.S. Capitol Building.The cartoon is a clear reference to a famous scene in the movie King Kong.A human figure carrying a label ‘The World’ is asking another figure ‘Uncle Sam’, “You do have a plan to shoot it if it gets dangerous, don’t you?

On May 30, 2016, Mr Houlding complained to the New Zealand Herald about the cartoon.

The Complaint

Mr Houlding complained that the cartoon was grossly offensive and went beyond satire and acceptable taste.He refers to Principle 5 of the Press Council Principles, which states that cartoons are understood to be opinion, and Principle 6, which states that captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance of the report they are designed to cover.

There was also a strong concern around the cartoon potentially inciting violence, “Political assassination and terrorism are a reality.”

The Response

The acting managing editor, Murray Kirkness, did not agree that the cartoon went beyond satire and fair comment.He suggested that the cartoon was a “clear play on the King Kong movies.”He stated that cartoonists commented, often provocatively, on social issues and attitudes. He further remarked that while it is highly likely that cartoonists will inevitably provoke some reaction, they are not entitled to publish carte blanche and that the discretion “lies with the editor.”

Mr Houlding was invited to express his views in a letter to the editor.

The Decision

Mr Houlding believes the cartoon is a call to violence and verges on hate speech.

This complaint has raised issues in relation to three of the Council’s principles: 1 (Accuracy), 5 (Cartoons are regarded as opinion) and 6 (Captions).

The Press Council rejects the complaint and agrees with Mr Kirkness on the basis that cartoons are regarded as opinion and are given wide license to challenge and confront.

The Press Council does acknowledge that Mr Houlding’s concerns around inciting violence are legitimate particularly in light of recent violent events in the US and around the world. However, The Press Council must balance these legitimate concerns with the freedom of expression, which is an important principle in a democracy.

The cartoon carries the title of ‘Guy Body’s view’. The Press Council principles give scope to cartoonists to express viewpoints which may, at times, cause offence.

Conclusion

Accordingly the complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Vernon Small, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.