PETER BOLOT AGAINST THE PRESSA complaint from Peter Bolot argues that a cartoon published in The Press on April 9, 2012 is anti-Semitic. The Press Council disagrees and does not uphold the complaint.
The cartoon deals with the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Playing with the word ‘settlement’ the cartoonist has US President Obama telling Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that he doubts whether Israel is committed to a [peace] settlement, and Netanyahu disagrees, showing him a map of all the [housing] settlements they are committed to. Obama’s response is “Men are from Mars – Zionists are from Uranus”. This is one of two complaints about the cartoon received by the Press Council.
Mr Bolot complained to the Council that The Press had published a “disgusting” cartoon that was racist and prejudiced. He saw it as evidence of an “open season” on Israel in the newspaper.
In an earlier letter to The Press editor Andrew Holden, he said the newspaper had chosen to pillory Israel using anti-Israel news sources. Its decision to add cartoons of this kind had revealed its “real thinking”.
He questioned why Israel was singled out for criticism and not the Syrian regime or Hamas’ rule in Gaza.
The Newspaper’s Response
Mr Holden said the newspaper had been unequivocal in its criticism of the policies and actions of all three regimes.
Given the public tension between Obama and Netanyahu, he did not think the cartoon was unfair in what it depicted in the relationship between them. “While the humour is clearly scatological, the most that could be read into it is that the US President Obama ‘thinks’ that Netanyahu and his political supporters are assholes.”
Mr Holden said that while the term Zionist was generally used to describe those who support the creation and existence of the state of Israel, more recently it had come to be used to describe those who want to expand the borders of Israel. In this context, this was the intended meaning of Zionist. The cartoon was a comment on the aggressive expansion of settlements on the West Bank in defiance of strong advice from the United States and many other allies. “If any other meaning is adopted the cartoon does not make sense.”
In further correspondence with the Press Council, Mr Bolot said Mr Holden had made up his own definition of Zionism. He said the newspaper failed the test of accuracy, fairness and balance in its treatment of Israel. He asked the Council to rule that the cartoon was in breach of its discrimination principle.
Mr Holden did not agree that the cartoon was fear-mongering or that it placed a gratuitous emphasis on dehumanising racial stereotypes.
This complaint has raised issues mainly in relation to two of the Council’s principles: 1 (Accuracy) and 6 (Discrimination). Mr Bolot argues the newspaper’s treatment of Israel generally is in breach of the first principle. This adjudication, however, is restricted to considering the cartoon which is the subject of the complaint. He has also disputed the use of the term Zionist. It is difficult to rule on a single definition of Zionist, when the meaning of the term varies according to who is using it, and in what circumstances.
The Council’s principle relating to discrimination does not restrict content which refers to religion or race. These are legitimate topics where they are relevant and in the public interest, and as long as there is no gratuitous reference. In recent adjudications the Council has set a high bar in this respect to protect freedom of expression.
The Council’s principles give scope to cartoonists to express very strong, even unpopular viewpoints.
Mr Bolot has questioned the impartiality of Press Council newspaper industry representative and NZ Herald columnist John Roughan and requested he take no part in this adjudication. The Press Council stands by the impartiality of all its members and has confidence they will withdraw from any complaint with which they have a conflict.
For the reasons outlined above, the Press Council does not uphold the complaint.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Kate Coughlan, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.
Chris Darlow took no part in the consideration of this complaint.