Daily Mail

Fairness in news: Is Australian church message board row 'sign' of things to come?

Fairness in news: Is Australian church message board row 'sign' of things to come?

"Advance Australia Fair," the national anthem of our friends Down Under, refers to the goodness of the land (click here for video).

But since the larger meaning of "fair" means, well, fair, perhaps it's time to question whether or not Australia, should it advance towards state recognition of same-sex marriage, will remain a "fair" land where all opinions are tolerated. If you look at some of the news coverage of a recent story, this question has implications for journalism ethics.

In mid-September, a church in the suburbs of Brisbane drew rhetorical fire -- and threats of literal burning -- over a message board reading "God Designed Marriage Between A Man and A Woman."

Britain's DailyMail.com picks up the story from there:

An evangelical Christian church has been threatened with a petrol fire for displaying a billboard message which said God created marriage between a man and a woman.
The Bellbowrie Community Church in Brisbane's leafy western suburbs put up a billboard in early September outlining Biblical teachings on matrimony. ...Senior pastor John Gill said the church, which has 150 parishioners, received a vile Facebook threat over that billboard.
'On Facebook, a lot of the stuff has been quite vicious at times,' he told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday. 'I mean quite physically threatening. That's been scary for some in the church.
'One of the comments, for example, was a suggestion that people bring petrol down and set the church on fire.'

But it's Australia's Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne, that raises some questions in reporting on this. From the headline, "Same sex [sic] marriage supporters critical of Brisbane church billboard," we sense which side the News Corp. outlet is on.

Read this rather lengthy, but important, excerpt to see what I mean. The church's message sign was:

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'Relig-Un' puns aside, deity downgrade for North Korea's Kim is a big story and UK media notice

'Relig-Un' puns aside, deity downgrade for North Korea's Kim is a big story and UK media notice

It's the kind of news story tailor-made for the puns and pokes of Britain's tabloid press, and The Sun, the daily redoubt of topless 'Page 3' girls, doesn't fail to deliver.

The headline says it all: "LOSING MY RELIG-UN Paranoid Kim Jong-un executing record numbers of North Koreans who no longer see him as a living GOD" [sic].

This is one of those cases in which the headline is pretty much the same as the lede, so here that is again in case you missed it:

DELUDED despot Kim Jong-un is executing growing numbers of North Koreans who no longer worship him as a living GOD.
His ruthless regime is persecuting thousands who dare to practise “other religions” within its borders, according to a shock new US government study.

It's not the poetry of a Hearstian scribe in the good old days, but it'll suffice. The "shock new US government study" is a nice touch, although someone should tell the paper that America is the U.S., and not a celebrity-gossip magazine. "Deluded despot" certainly fits the bill, however.

This is not our usual media-bash since even The Sun does "get it" here: there appears to be evidence that the literal cult-of-personality surrounding the Kim family, where the current ruler's father and grandfather were quite literally worshipped by the population or else, is showing some cracks.

A more serious London newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, published a story from which The Sun and rival tabloid the Daily Mail, both appear to have cribbed. As the Telegraph reported, citing the U.S. State Department report:

"An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some imprisoned for religious reasons, were believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions", it adds.
Those claims were backed up by a North Korean defector who is now a member of the Seoul-based Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea.

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Sexbots, slavery and The Salvation Army: The Daily Mail explains why it doesn't compute

Sexbots, slavery and The Salvation Army: The Daily Mail explains why it doesn't compute

I don't believe Isaac Asimov, the late science fiction author of the I, Robot series, ever imagined this scenario -- the Salvation Army getting involved in a debate about sex with robots.

The Salvation Army has a long tradition of getting involved in debates that link morality, politics and labor. However, in this case we are talking about a whole different kind of work and, to say the least, a different kind of worker -- "sexbots."

Let's turn to a predictable source of information, Britain's Daily Mail -- a populist source of news if there ever was one.

Headlined "Sexbots will encourage sex to be viewed as a ‘commodity’ and could increase objectification of women and children, warns Salvation Army," we read:

Last week, a report about sex robots warned about the 'dark side' of the technology, which could involve issues of rape and paedophilia.
And now The Salvation Army has had its say on the controversial sexbots.
The charity claims that sex robots could 'fuel demand for sex with people', and even lead traffickers to exploit more vulnerable individuals to meet this demand.

Unlike many of the hair-on-fire reports from this newspaper that have a religion angle, this time, the Daily Mail is relatively restrained, even kind, to the Army's viewpoint. (Disclosure: I was a Salvation Army church member, or "soldier," for 17 years before joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and retain a high regard for the organization and its people.)

However, there is a missing bit of journalism in the Daily Mail report, and we'll get to that in a moment.

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Case of the missing blasphemy defense: What Ireland's Independent, BBC and the Daily Mail skipped

Case of the missing blasphemy defense: What Ireland's Independent, BBC and the Daily Mail skipped

According to the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, theodicy is defined as a "defense of God's goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil."

It's a word not at all unfamiliar here at GetReligion central.

As it turns out, the question of theodicy might well be the linchpin of a potential police investigation in the Republic of Ireland involving a British comic named Stephen Fry. Since Fry is British, let's go to the recent account by the BBC (original spellings and style retained).

This is long, but essential. Read carefully.

Police in the Republic of Ireland have launched an investigation after a viewer claimed comments made by Stephen Fry on a TV show were blasphemous.
Officers are understood to be examining whether the British comedian committed a criminal offence under the Defamation Act when he appeared on RTE in 2015.
Fry had asked why he should "respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world. ... full of injustice".
He later said he was not "offensive towards any particular religion".
According to a report in the Irish Independent newspaper, no publicised cases of blasphemy have been brought before the courts since the law was introduced in 2009 and a source said it was "highly unlikely" that a prosecution against Fry would take place. ...
Appearing on The Meaning of Life, hosted by Gay Byrne, in February 2015, Fry had been asked what he might say to God at the gates of heaven.
Fry said: "How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It's not our fault? It's not right. It's utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?"

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'Cruxifiction': Numbing media reaction after a mayor renames Good Friday

'Cruxifiction': Numbing media reaction after a mayor renames Good Friday

Come with us now to Bloomington, Ind., where Mayor John Hamilton has announcement. He says the city's 700 employees will get two paid days off: Fall Holiday and Spring Holiday.

Don’t recognize those holy days? You may know them as Columbus Day and Good Friday. Hamilton wielded his mayoral power to rechristen them.

To be blunt about it, this is a story built for mainstream media. As usual, though, much of the mainstream news coverage is better at citing the secular side than the religious opposition.

You know, like the New York Daily News:

Hamilton espoused acceptance in a memo to city employees.
"We are terrifically proud of our diverse workforce at the city. That diversity makes us stronger and more representative of the public we proudly serve," he wrote. "These updated names for two days of well-merited time off is another way we can demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity."
Bloomington, home to Indiana University's largest campus, sits in predominantly liberal Monroe County.

Like other accounts, the newspaper also gives a rundown on the meaning behind Columbus Day and Good Friday.

That's nice, but how about some religious voices on the latter? How do church leaders feel about the safe, pastelized reference to Good Friday? It's not like journalists couldn't find local people of faith -- not with Google listing 20 congregations in several denominations in the Bloomington area. Can you say, "Google"?

The issue has even drawn attention abroad. The BBC's version sprouts so many partial quotes, it read almost like sarcasm:

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Veiled references in the press, as French restaurant ejects women for wearing hijabs

Veiled references in the press, as French restaurant ejects women for wearing hijabs

Crude and bigoted, yes. Ignorant, yes. And it violated the very secular principles he embraced when a French restaurateur threw out two diners just for wearing hijabs.

But c'mon -- a "vicious attack"? That's a bit much, even for the Daily Mail

Other mainstream media were less inflammatory, but they committed another sin: skipping over the obvious religious aspect of attire associated with a particular faith. Yep, a classic religion ghost.

The dustup began Saturday when the two women sat down at Le Cenacle restaurant. They were given the usual glasses of water, but then a man -- either the chef or the owner or both, the articles don’t agree -- ordered them to leave.

Here's how the Mail puts it:

Two women wearing headscarves were thrown out of a Paris restaurant after being threatened by its self-confessed racist owner who said ‘Terrorists are Muslims, and all Muslims are terrorists.’
The disturbing scenes at Le Cenacle follow a series of incidents in which grandmothers and mothers have been thrown off public beaches in France for wearing Islamic looking clothing.
Now a criminal enquiry has been launched into Saturday’s vicious attack at the restaurant in Tremblay-en-France, a north-east suburb of the French capital.

As you can see by the video above, one of the women recorded the confrontation. She captured hateful remarks like "Madam, terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists," "I don’t want people like you in my place," and "It seems like you don’t understand. Now get out!"

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Stealing magnolias: Journalists join pro-gay groups against Mississippi's religious liberty law

Stealing magnolias: Journalists join pro-gay groups against Mississippi's religious liberty law

Last week, when Gov. Phil Bryant signed its religious freedom law, much of the news about Mississippi has been about reprisals. Business groups have vowed to boycott the Magnolia State. Showbiz figure Ellen DeGeneres swats the state, crying oppression. And Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York has banned "nonessential travel" to Mississippi.

All with mainstream media help -- dare I say encouragement?

Reuters writes up the alliance of business leaders and pro-gay groups urging the state to repeal the new law. First the story sets up Governor Phil Bryant as the whipping boy:

Bryant hailed the statute, the latest in a series of state laws opposed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists, as designed to "protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions ... from discriminatory action by state government."
But top executives from General Electric Co., PepsiCo Inc., Dow Chemical Co. and five other major U.S. corporations, in an open letter, condemned the law as discriminatory. The letter was addressed to Bryant and the speaker of the Republican-controlled Mississippi House of Representatives.

The article is a near-textbook case of slurring by the numbers.

Partial quote in defense of the Mississippi law, with lots of quotes against -- check.

Sarcasm quotes around "religious liberty" bills, with none around "gay rights" -- check.

Ignoring religious leaders' viewpoints -- check.

Saying the law, and similar ones in other states, are "pushed by social conservatives" -- a twofer. There's the aggressive verb "pushed" along with the "conservative" red flag. Liberals, of course, never push. Nor are they identified here, although it should be obvious who is fighting the laws in question.

The main pinch of moderation is when Reuters reports:

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Did the Vatican lie about abuse reforms? GlobalPost says so, but doesn't shoot straight

Did the Vatican lie about abuse reforms? GlobalPost says so, but doesn't shoot straight

The Vatican didn’t talk. A critic talked. Guess how the story turned out?

USA Today's story, on a layman who says the church's effort to stem child abuse is a sham, is defensibly derogatory. As I've said often, you usually can't stop a story by stonewalling media. You only succeed in giving your foes the sole say.

That's one thing. It's another thing to link the commission piece with a previous story on an anti-abuse training session for bishops. It's still another thing not to make sure you have the latest info.

Here's the top:

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — A member of a commission set up by Pope Francis to advise him on child abuse says the group is a "token body" exercising in "smoke and mirrors" that won’t help children stay safe from abusive priests.
Peter Saunders, the commission member, is now on a leave of absence as he considers whether to continue with an effort he says he has lost faith in.
Meanwhile, new Catholic bishops are still being taught they’re not obliged to report cases of child abuse by priests to the police.
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which Francis set up with much fanfare in 2014, was supposed to issue guidelines for the Vatican on how to deal with child abuse. But the body was never consulted about the training for new bishops on exactly that topic.
These are just some of the signs that Francis’ reform efforts, and his pledge to clean up the Catholic Church’s most damaging crisis, seem to be unraveling before they’ve even really gotten started.

The article is a reprint from GlobalPost, a news site based in Boston. GlobalPost partners with older media including NBC News and NPR, as well as USA Today. The piece on Saunders is a spinoff of the site's yearlong investigation of accused priestly abusers, saying several from America and Europe were sent to "poor, remote parishes." GlobalPost evidently saw Pope Francis' visit to the continent as a good time hook.

Apparently, the news site also called Saunders, rather than wait for him to call them:

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Pope, Paris and ISIS: mainstream media coverage broad but shallow

Pope, Paris and ISIS: mainstream media coverage broad but shallow

Pope Francis didn’t just criticize the ISIS attacks in Paris. He pretty much damned them. His weekend reactions used both religious and humanitarian terms -- "blasphemy," "not human," "homicidal hatred." It was some of Francis' strongest language yet.

But not everyone in mainstream media looked much below the surface -- either at his comments or those of ISIS.

Catholic News Service, of course, spotted the religious content quickly:

The attacks, Pope Francis said, were an "unspeakable affront to the dignity of the human person."
"The path of violence and hatred cannot resolve the problems of humanity, and using the name of God to justify this path is blasphemy," he said.
Pope Francis asked the thousands of people who gathered at St. Peter's for the Sunday midday prayer to observe a moment of silence and to join him in reciting a Hail Mary.
"May the Virgin Mary, mother of mercy, give rise in the hearts of everyone thoughts of wisdom and proposals for peace," he said. "We ask her to protect and watch over the dear French nation, the first daughter of the church, over Europe and the whole world."
"Let us entrust to the mercy of God the innocent victims of this tragedy," the pope said.

And other reports? Well, some simply patched together other reports. One of those was HuffPost, which linked to seven other stories in less than 230 words (although three were other HuffPo stories).  The article also cites Francis saying the attacks are part of a "piecemeal Third World War," drawn from an interview with TV2000, the network of the Italian Bishops' Conference.

It's a phrase he has often used. The Washington Times points out that he said much the same at an Italian World War I cemetery in 2014. But don’t give the Times too much credit for enterprise reporting: It linked to BBC's coverage of the pope's visit there.

Even the combined forces of CBS News and the Associated Press yielded a pitiful 280 words or so on Sunday. And it's nearly all soundbites: "blasphemy," "barbarity," "third world war," "no justification for these things." The main addition was his condolence to French President Francois Hollande, who vowed "merciless" war on ISIS.

One might excuse AP/CBS for haste because the report ran on Sunday morning, but no. Not when Crux, the Catholic newsmagazine of the Boston Globe, ran a more thorough report the day before -- a report that showed a Sunday update:

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