Case Number: 2893

Council Meeting: APRIL 2020

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Offensive Language


Alan McArdle complained about a sentence in a Fran O’Sullivan comment piece “Morrison was clearly caught out by his earlier cack-handed response to the bushfires” published in the New Zealand herald on March 1, 2020.

Mr McArdle said that cack-handed is a derogatory term for left-handed people. If the writer meant useless or clumsy she should say so, but using cack-handed is not acceptable.

In response the New Zealand Herald said while the term may once have been regarded as a disparaging term for left-handed people it is now far more commonly used to refer to someone handling something in a clumsy way and that was how the vast bulk of readers would have interpreted it.

Both complainant and editor traded dictionary references.

The Council noted that cack-handed was a fairly gentle way of describing clumsy behaviour and that was clearly what was meant here.Although the word can be, and originally was, used to mean somebody who is left handed, it would be stretching a point to ban the term on the grounds it is insulting or offensive. Language moves on. The Council notes that if it were to uphold this complaint it would also have to rule out the use of sinister and gauche. Further, left-handed people are not one of the groups offered special protection under the Discrimination Principle.


There are insufficient grounds to argue a breach of Media Council Principles and this complaint will not proceed.