CANTERBURY REFUGEE COUNCIL AGAINST THE PRESSAhmed Tani, Chairperson of the Canterbury Refugee Council, complained to the Press Council about a Nisbet cartoon published in The Press. The complaint is not upheld.
On 17 March 2012 The Press published on its opinion page a colour cartoon which depicted three kiwis (representative of New Zealanders) on a beach enthusiastically farewelling a motorised shipping container with hands protruding through the casing of the container. These hands represented departing migrants enclosed in the container. The hands grasped bombs, knives, daggers and other offensive weapons through the casing of the container. The container had a slogan on the side: “Refugees that commit violent crimes in New Zealand”. A buoy at the side of the shipping container had a flag: “Back where ya came from”.
The major headline on the cartoon was “Another use for shipping containers?...” a reference to the range of new uses for containers in Christchurch following the earthquakes.
The overall message conveyed by the cartoon was that violent migrants should be sent away from New Zealand.
The cartoon had been published in the wake of a kidnapping and stabbing incident in which the person arrested was alleged to be a refugee.
The Complaint and the Editor’s Response
Complaining initially to the editor the Refugee Council said the cartoon promoted racial discrimination and demonised a unique part of our New Zealand society. “We are refugees and we are Kiwis – this is our home” the Council said.
Further they noted that the man involved had significant mental health issues and this tragic incident was a terrible consequence of his illness.
In his response to the initial complaint, the editor had pointed out that this cartoon, like others, highlighted concerns that do exist in our society whether we like it or not.
The editor acknowledged that this particular cartoon might be upsetting to refugee communities, but it is in the nature of a free press that strong opinions can be expressed from time to time, and that these opinions will upset some people.
The Press had taken up the issue of mental health support for refugees in several stories subsequent to the publication of this cartoon. These stories added balance to the cartoon.
Mr Tani and his Council responded to this letter by complaining to the Press Council. They said that there were very few serious offences caused by refugees, and that those individuals had mental health issues. It was these mental health issues that were the major factor in the offending, not their refugee origins. The publication of the cartoon, not only caused distress to the refugee community, but could be seen as bullying by the newspaper.
The Refugee Council felt that the cartoon, published shortly after a stabbing incident in Christchurch by a former refugee, was poorly timed, and added angst to high feelings already evident in Christchurch towards refugees.
The mental health stories published subsequently did not balance the cartoon. The complaint was based on the principles of accuracy, fairness and balance; comment and fact; and discrimination and diversity.
Responding to the Press Council, the editor pointed out that the cartoonist had been careful to have the arms of the refugees depicted to be of different colours so that no one racial group was referred to by the drawing.
An editor would only with extreme reluctance suppress a cartoon, which is clearly opinion and published on the op-ed page.
The incident leading to this cartoon was a significant news story.
Discussion and Decision
The Press Council has, in a number of decisions, upheld the right of newspapers to publish cartoons which represent an extreme edge of public opinion.
Cartoons are the work of one cartoonist, can express strong opinions, and frequently cause disquiet to certain communities, or groups, or individuals.
The cartoon did not discriminate against any race or minority and was clearly comment.
The Press Council acknowledges that some people have been distressed by this cartoon, but upholds the right of The Press to publish it. The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.