Case Number: 2870

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2020

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage


Right to Life NZ Inc. complained about a cartoon published in The Press,The Dominion Post, Waikato Times, Manawatu Standard, Nelson Mail and Taranaki Daily News on November 16, 2019.

The cartoon, published following Parliament’s passing of the End of Life Choice Bill, depicted a patient on life support lying under a blanket labelled the anti-Euthanasia Campaign. The patient is being fed by intravenous drip bags variously labelled scare mongering, hysteria, misinformation and religion.

The Complaint

Right to Life Secretary Ken Orr said in his opinion the cartoon breached the Media Council’s principle 1 relating to accuracy, fairness and balance. He acknowledged cartoons were considered to be opinion but there was a requirement for a foundation of fact.

He believed the cartoon mocked the anti-euthanasia movement or the pro-life movement as he preferred to describe it. He also believed the cartoon mocked the medical profession which seeks to cure and not kill. It also lacked a foundation of truth by claiming those who opposed the killing of patients were using religion, scare mongering, misinformation and hysteria to promote their cause.

The Response

In a response on behalf of all the papers Kamala Hayman stood by the publication of the cartoon.

She said that Mr Orr appeared to allege breaches of principle 5, relating to columns, blogs, opinion and letters. She rejected his claim the cartoon did not have a foundation of fact.

As for his claim that the cartoon was unjustified in denigrating those who opposed euthanasia by suggesting they had used “hysteria, scaremongering and religion”, she said these were largely subjective terms expressing the cartoonist’s opinion.

She said Labour MP Marja Lubeck used similar phrasing when she told Parliament there had been a lot of scaremongering about the law in the Netherlands which was not based on fact and it saddened her that there was so much misinformation in the campaign against the Bill. It was also a fact that a group of religious leaders had signed a joint letter opposing the Bill.

She also did not accept that the cartoon referred to the medical profession but to a broader group of those opposed to euthanasia, some of whom were doctors.

Ms Hayman also defended the use of the phrase “the anti-euthanasia movement” as there was no requirement for newspapers to use phases preferred by others.

The Discussion

Media Council Principle 1, under which this complaint was laid, states that publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers and that in articles of controversy or disagreement fair voice must be given to the opposite view. This principle relates particularly to reportage and for publications to give a fair voice to opposite views.

We have no evidence to suggest these papers have failed to cover the views of the various sides in the euthanasia debate.

This cartoon, which is the opinion of the cartoonist, is part of the debate.The Media Council has noted previously that cartoonists can be compared to court jesters “enjoying a special license to make exaggerated and comic criticisms.” By their nature they can be confronting and cause offence.

Mr Orr may have been offended but the cartoon is unexceptional. Cartoonist regularly mock all sorts of people and the Right to Life movement and the medical profession are not sacrosanct.

Ms Hayman set out how the views expressed in the cartoon were based on fact, which makes it hard to sustain any argument that the cartoon was gratuitous.

The Council has always held that there is no more important principle in a democracy than freedom of expression. Cartoons have always been held to be acceptable expressions of that freedom and a very high bar must be crossed before a complaint about an offensive cartoon will be upheld.

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.


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