The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by a cartoon in The Sydney Morning Herald on 26 July 2014. It was associated with an opinion piece on the conflict in Gaza and depicted an elderly man with a large nose, wearing the distinctively Jewish head covering called a kippah or yarmulke, and sitting in an armchair emblazoned with the Star of David. He was pointing a TV remote control device at an exploding cityscape, implied to be Gaza.
The Council asked the publication to comment on whether the cartoon placed gratuitous emphasis on race or religion. It also asked the publication whether the cartoon could reasonably have been expected to cause offence and showed insufficient concern for balancing the sensibilities of some readers with the broader public interest.
In response, the publication agreed that the cartoon had placed gratuitous emphasis on the Jewishness of its subject and in doing so had inappropriately emphasised religious persuasion rather than Israeli nationality, thereby causing offence. It pointed out that a 650-word apology had been published about a week later.
The publication also pointed out that the newspaper’s Editor in Chief and News Director had subsequently participated in seminars facilitated by the Jewish Board of Deputies to raise awareness about imagery that could be construed as anti-Semitic. It said further seminars were planned and would be expanded to include the newspaper’s senior editorial staff.
The publication also said that a requirement for extra layers of approval had subsequently been introduced for all cartoons prior to publication.
The Council emphasises that cartoons are subject to its Standards of Practice. The application of those Standards however, takes account of the fact that readers can reasonably be expected to recognise that cartoons commonly use exaggeration and caricature to a considerable degree and therefore should be interpreted by them with this in mind.
In this instance, the cartoon’s linkage between the Jewish faith and the Israeli rocket attacks on Gaza was reasonably likely to cause great offence to many readers. A linkage with Israeli nationality might have been justifiable in the public interest, despite being likely to cause offence. But the same cannot be said of the implied linkage with the Jewish faith that arose from inclusion of the kippah and the Star of David. Accordingly, the Council’s Standards of Practice were breached on the ground of causing greater offence to readers’ sensibilities than was justifiable in the public interest.
The Council welcomes the prominent, extensive and closely-reasoned apology by the publication and its subsequent action to reduce the risk of repetition. The Council commends this approach to other publications.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the following General Principles as at the date of publication of the article: General Principle 7: “Publications have a wide discretion in publishing material, but they should balance the public interest with the sensibilities of their readers, particularly when the material, such as photographs, could reasonably be expected to cause offence”; General Principle 8: “Publications should not place any gratuitous emphasis on the race, religion, nationality, colour, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness, or age of an individual or group. Where it is relevant and in the public interest, publications may report and express opinions in these areas.”