PETER BOLOT AGAINST THE PRESS

Case Number: 2323

Council Meeting: MAY 2013

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Balance, Lack Of
Cartoons
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage
Conflict of Interest

Peter Bolot took issue with a Malcolm Evans cartoon published in The Press on February 22 2013. The complaint is not upheld.

Background
The cartoon, entitled "Plain Packaging" featured eight panels resembling newspaper billboards. Seven referred to current New Zealand issues, with a comment diagonally across each. The eighth had the words "Israel and the Palestinians" with the word "Apartheid" diagonally across it.

The Complaint
Mr Bolot said while he accepted that cartoons are allowed greater leeway, this one was offensive and racist, and exhibited obsessional hatred towards Israel. He cited New Zealand Press Council Principles 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance), Principle 4 (Comment and Fact) and Principle 9 (Conflicts of interest).

Referring to NZPC Principle 9, he said Evans' history of work with the New Zealand Herald and The Press showed he had an established hatred of Israel.

The Editor’s Response
Israel was not particularly singled out in the cartoon but was part of a scattergun set of comments on issues on which Evans wished to express a view that day. Cartoonists had a certain licence to comment on issues. Cartoons were understood to be opinion, as NZPC Principle 4 acknowledged. They were not required to be fair and balanced and often took a striking view one way or another on a controversial topic.

The suggestion that Israel was an apartheid state was not particularly novel, and Wikipedia even had a long, detailed entry about this. While it was a controversial or even extreme proposition, and it was not one that The Press endorsed, expressing that opinion was not displaying blind prejudice, or bigotry.

She could not see how Principle 9 (conflicts of interest) applied. She did not know of any interest held by the cartoonist that compromised his opinions on Israel or anything else. "He has strong opinions on Israel, as he has on many other subjects. That does not constitute a conflict of interest. Strong views are, in general, almost a qualification for a good cartoonist."


Press Council Decision
The Press Council Principle 4 (comment and fact) makes it clear that cartoons are opinion. The Evans cartoon was opinion and published on a page clearly identified as such. It did not cross the boundary of racist or hate speech. Cartoonists have the right to express their views, which can provoke or upset. In this case, while the inclusion of the Israel reference in a cartoon largely about New Zealand issues might seem unusual, the cartoonist was free to do so.

Mr Bolot's claim that Principle 9 (conflicts of interest) has been contravened is also not accepted. There is no conflict of interests when a cartoonist expresses a strong view which he holds. Similarly, his claim about Principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance) is not accepted.
Fairness and balance are not requirements in a cartoon.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.

Chris Darlow took no part in the consideration of this complaint.