Case Number: 799

Council Meeting: September 2000

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion

Ruling Categories: Cartoons

A complaint by Rob Ritchie of Taupo against The Dominion has not been upheld by the New Zealand Press Council.

Mr Ritchie complained about a feature article by Jane Fraser published on 1 August entitled "Dressed to Kill." The article, which was reprinted from The Australian, had the sub-heading "North Korea's Kim Jong-il has given a new lease of life to dictator chic." The North Korean leader's ensemble at his much-publicised meeting with his South Korean counterpart is compared with that of another figure much in the public eye, George Speight. There follows a survey of "dictator fashion" with an accompanying montage of pictures of the "sartorial tyranny" of these two, Idi Amin, Yaser Arafat, Adolf Hitler, Augusto Pinochet, Mao Tse-Tung and Mobutu Sese Seko.

The complainant claimed that the article defamed Chairman Arafat of the PLO by calling him a dictator, and asserted that the publication of the article at this particular time was an attempt to derail the current peace talks. The editor's response was that "this was not an attempt to derail the peace process.. but was rather.a tongue in cheek article on 'dictator chic.'"

The Press Council thinks that the complainant has taken the article altogether too seriously, especially in his assertion about its intended effect. It is a light-hearted piece on a familiar target for cartoonists and satirists, the idiosyncrasies of dress favoured by the powerful. Yasser Arafat gains his place in this gallery because of his famous headgear. The two paragraphs on him are wholly about his appearance and say nothing about his politics. It is very clear that the writer's aim is to make witty observations about these various fashion statements, not to explore any other dimension or her subjects' significance.

The piece obviously failed to work in those terms for the complainant. It was a risky enterprise to link Yasser Arafat, a Nobel Peace prize winner, with such universally condemned figures as Hitler and Idi Amin as if they were all of a kind.

The slant that cartoonists or humorists take on public figures will always offend some readers, because it usually depends on bold exaggeration and stereotyping. There is plenty of room on our society for such humour, especially when it is as free of malice as this piece. To treat the article more seriously is to accord it unwarranted importance.

The Press Council sees nothing in the article that requires censure and therefore does not uphold the complaint.