By 3 News online staff
Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy says cartoons printed in Fairfax Media newspapers in response to the Government's food in schools plan were offensive, but not legally racist.
But when asked what the threshold for racism was, Dame Susan had to consult her advisor – eventually saying the cartoons would "have to incite riot".
However, she does think the cartoons are hurtful and "insensitive to parents who can't feed their kids", and is encouraging others who are offended to contact the newspapers' editors or the Press Council.
The Marlborough Express cartoon, by award-winning cartoonist Al Nisbet, depicts an overweight group of adults who appear to be predominantly Maori or Pacific Islanders, stealing breakfast provided to school children so they have money to pay for "booze, smokes and pokies". The Press in Christchurch this morning published a cartoon with a similar theme, also by Nisbet.
The cartoon by Al Nisbet published in the Marlborough Express yesterday. (Photo: RadioLIVE)
The Mana Party has written to Dame Susan, asking her to "hold the newspaper to account for this attack on our kids". Co-vice president John Minto says the cartoon "plays to the lazy racism and deep bigotry of many well-off Pakeha".
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei is also considering making a formal complaint to Dame Susan.
However Express editor Steven Mason, who has received multiple complaints from around the country, told RadioLIVE he does not believe the cartoon is racist, saying "[Nisbet] has chosen stereotypes that we all know very well to highlight an issue".
He admitted it was "pretty close to the line" but said overall he was delighted the cartoon "sparked discussion".
Nesbet has also defended his cartoon, saying it is "a bit of a joke" and that he "draws white people fat and ugly all the time" but never gets a reaction.
Social media users and bloggers have been discussing the controversial cartoon, with one person Tweeting, "It seems that Marlborough is so express it's a time machine. Straight back to 1952."
However, Mr Mason isn't going to "stamp on free expression", he said.
"We can't sweep this important issue under the carpet […] Al Nesbit had free license and he has reflected that issue".
Dame Susan said she wants to meet with both newspapers' editors to discuss the matter.