CATHERINE BINDON AGAINST THE DOMINION POST / STUFF
Case Number: 2706
Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2018
Verdict: Not Upheld
Publication: The Dominion Post
Tragedies, Offensive Handling of
1. Catherine Bindon complained that a cartoon published in The Dominion Post on 16 July was tasteless, misleading and offensive.
2. The Dominion Post ran a cartoon by Al Nisbet covering four scenarios on four quite different topical issues, under the heading “Whatever next?” One depicted a group of people, supposedly the Thai football team cave rescuers, standing at the entrance of the Pike River mine, with a speech bubble saying, “Save money and give us a crack”.
3. Ms Bindon complained that the cartoon is offensive in that it mocks the tragedy at Pike River where 29 men died in November 2010.
4. She objected to the depiction of the Thai football team rescuers, and says the speech bubble, “Save money and give us a crack”, suggests that the recovery of the miners’ bodies is dependent on money, and is in poor taste.
5. Ms Bindon believed the cartoon is misleading as it shows the mine entry blocked by a plug of red tape. While there are certain safety and logistical barriers impeding the recovery of the miners’ bodies, there are no legal barriers, she says.
6. The cartoon is deeply insensitive to the families of the Pike River miners. There is nothing funny or entertaining about it, she said.
7. The editor of The Press, Kamala Hayman, said cartoons represent the views of the cartoonists, not those of the newspapers which publish them: “Our cartoonists, like our columnists, are free to express these views as long as they do not breach NZ laws regarding defamation, sub judice or hate speech.”
8. She cited Media Council Principle 5, which covers opinions, blogs, letter and also cartoons, which explains that opinions are not required to be balanced, although they are required to have a basis in fact.
9. Ms Hayman said it was not unreasonable or misleading for the cartoon to suggest there were legal difficulties impeding the re-entry to the mine. She referred the Media Council to the seven-year history of attempts to re-enter the mine, which has been hindered by the Health and Safety at Work Act. This was clearly articulated by former Prime Minister Bill English who said Pike River Mine was “the most dangerous workplace in New Zealand” and approving re-entry would go against the very health and safety laws passed in response to the disaster.
10. On the complaint that it was incorrect to insinuate that the Pike River miners are trapped in a caving system, Ms Hayman said the cartoon infers that the Thai cave rescuers had skills relevant to entering an underground mine: “It is not an unreasonable assumption that there are transferable skills.”
11. Ms Hayman said she was confident the views expressed in the cartoon were factually correct.
12. She had offered the complainant an opportunity to write to The Dominion Post to express her views in response to the cartoon.
13. This complaint refers to an Al Nisbet cartoon satirising recent topical issues that have provoked public reaction but concerns only one of the four scenarios depicted. It relates to the long-running issue of the Pike River mine re-entry to recover the bodies of the 29 miners who perished in 2010.
14. While some readers may agree with the cartoonist’s hypothesis that the Thai cave rescuers would make short work of the Pike River re-entry, it is easy to understand that any attempt at satire, not to be confused with humour, about the Pike River saga is bound to offend those closely connected with the disaster.
15. In her complaint, Ms Bindon did not cite any Media Council principles, although she is adamant that to suggest the re-entry has been held up by ‘red tape’ (depicted as a huge plug to the entrance to the mine in the cartoon) is misleading. The editor argued that seven years of repeated stalling and controversy around health and safety issues relating to the mine re-entry can fairly be labelled ‘red tape’. For the record, ‘red tape’, a term commonly used to describe excessive bureaucracy, was coined to describe the red or pink tape that was used to bind official documents in the early 18th century.On this point the Media Council agrees with the editor that the term is relevant and not misleading.
16. The rights and wrongs of the ‘red tape’ suggestion aside, Al Nisbet’s cartoon is a matter of opinion. As has been noted in previous decisions, the Media Council is committed to upholding the democratic right to freedom of expression, which is inextricably bound to freedom of the media: cartoons are an integral part of newspapers and represent freedom of expression at its most extreme interpretation.
17. The Media Council acknowledges that some people have been distressed by this cartoon, but upholds the right ofThe Dominion Post/Stuff to publish it.
18. The complaint is not upheld.
Media Council members considering the complaint were Chris Darlow, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.