MALCOLM PEASE AGAINST TARANAKI DAILY NEWSMalcolm Pease, complained about the Taranaki Daily News’ publication of a cartoon on March 14, 2011 concerning New Plymouth Base Hospital.
The complaint is not upheld.
The newspaper had previously published many reports about general funding for health in Taranaki, the growth of Taranaki Area Health Board deficits, and whether it would be able to afford a multi-million dollar upgrade to the New Plymouth hospital. One such report appeared in the newspaper on March 12 about plans for an $80 million extension to the hospital. The newspaper called this a "significant announcement" and on March 14 it published a cartoon about the issue from contributor Shane Dunlop on its Opinion page.
The Complainant’s View
Mr Pease wrote to the newspaper the day the cartoon appeared, objecting to its contents. He expressed disgust and said it was "extremely sick". He wanted the newspaper to apologise to its readers. The newspaper published the letter without comment, and did not reply directly to Mr Pease.
Mr Pease complained to the Press Council on March 18, expressing even stronger objections to the cartoon's contents and asking for the editor to be reprimanded for accepting such material for publication.
In subsequent correspondence with the Press Council, Mr Pease expressed disappointment that the editor had not replied to his letter of complaint.
He noted the Press Council's Principle 4 of its Statement of Principles which covers cartoons, and advises that they fall into the "opinion" category. He said that, in publishing the cartoon, it would appear that the editor agreed with the cartoonist. He also objected to some subsequent Dunlop cartoons, but they are not the subject of this complaint.
The Newspaper’s Response
Deputy editor Rob Mitchell said the cartoonist had an "offbeat" sense of humour and some of his contributions "verged on black humour". This would aptly describe the cartoon complained of.
It was a satirical cartoon. Through newspaper convention, and because of its placement on the Opinion page, it was clearly the cartoonist's opinion and not necessarily that of the newspaper.
Mr Mitchell accepted that some readers could question the taste of some of the Dunlop cartoons, including this one, but they were clearly comment, opinion and satire, not fact.
The newspaper published Mr Pease's letter of complaint without comment as it did not want to be seen "as having the last word". He admitted that, in hindsight, the newspaper should probably have contacted Mr Pease. He would be happy to do so after the Press Council considered his complaint.
Further Comment from the Complainant
Mr Pease was not satisfied, because no editor's comment was attached to the letter of complaint he had published in the newspaper. He considered the editor was "going along with" the cartoon's publication. He wanted the editor to make the cartoonist aware of why the material was objectionable, as well as an apology from the editor and an undertaking that such "opinions" material would be in future be carefully vetted before publication, with the authors being told what was – or was not – acceptable.
Discussion and Decision
Cartoonists are expressing their opinion, and aim to provoke comment. Satire or black humour is a legitimate part of that.
The cartoon was clearly published on the newspaper's Opinion page and as the newspaper points out, this clearly distinguishes it from "fact". It does not necessarily depict the newspaper's view.
The Council notes that the newspaper did publish Mr Pease’s letter setting out his views of the cartoon.
The Press Council has consistently upheld the right of cartoonists to be provocative and has previously noted that cartoonists must enjoy considerable freedom in their role.
The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Lynn Scott (Acting Chairman), Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.