Face of the Day

Al Nisbeth, Cartoonist – via Stuff

A tribunal has found Fairfax Media did not breach the Human Rights Act in publishing two “provocative” cartoons in its newspapers.

Labour MP Louisa Wall and South Auckland youth group Warriors of Change took the company and The Press and Marlborough Express newspapers to the Human Rights Review Tribunal over cartoons published in 2013. Fairfax Media, which publishes the two newspapers, also owns Stuff.

Cartoonist Al Nisbet produced two cartoons about the Government’s breakfast in schools programme.

Here they are.  

Wall said the cartoons were “insulting and ignorant put-downs of Maori and Pacific people”. She argued they breached section 61 of the Human Rights Act.

The tribunal’s ruling, released on Friday, found the cartoons may have “offended, insulted or even angered”, they were “not likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of their colour, race, or ethnic or national origins”.

For that reason their publication was not unlawful.

“In a free and democratic society it is essential that the “space” within which issues (including race) can be raised and debated must be kept as broad as possible,” the ruling found.

At the tribunal hearing in 2014, Wall argued for a lower threshold in interpreting s61 of the Human Rights Act, allowing consideration for “subjective offence”. She initially lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, which found no breach and took no action.

The tribunal agreed. “Our holding is that parliament has framed the s61 racial disharmony provision in appropriately narrow terms,” its decision said. “It would be wrong to characterise this decision as a ruling that there is a “right to insult”. There is no such right.”

Attacks on the functioning of democratic institutions and the free communication of information and ideas highlighted the need for a vigilant free press, the tribunal found, permitted to offend, shock or disturb on occasion.

“It is important the press continue to speak truth to power.

Whaleoil has it’s own cartoon in the process of being tested against the Human Rights Act.  The one that BoomSlang drew during the “Moko” news cycle.

We’ve not heard a peep from the Human Rights Commission since the complaint was launched.  It occurred to me to check if it was still considered an active complaint, but we have other things on right now.

Judging by the time it took with the cartoons published by Fairfax, our decision is probably due in 2020.

And it is hard to see the HRT and the HRRT will come to a different conclusion:  that cartoonists must have this latitude when commenting on current affairs.


– Stuff

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