Report on same-sex marriage bias begins at 4:49 min   

Australia has finally recovered its mojo and is back at the top of the world laughingstock index which it last visited in 1986 with the release of Crocodile Dundee. At least that’s the story that fans of same-sex marriage are peddling now that Australia is the last redoubt of traditional marriage in the Anglosphere.

In the US, the UK, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand SSM is legal. The pressure on politicians to follow the leaders is unrelenting. At the moment only Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s finger in the dike keeps SSM from flooding in. He recently decreed that his Liberal-National coalition would not consider a change in legislation until next year’s election. The question will probably go to the people as a referendum or a plebiscite.

How is the Australian media coping with the challenge of balanced reporting on such a divisive issue?

Very badly, according to Paul Barry, the presenter of Media Watch, a weekly forum for media analysis whose catchline is “everyone loves it until they’re on it”. His D- grade for bias for print, TV and radio media is astonishing for two reasons. He supports same-sex marriage and his employer, the ABC, the government-funded broadcaster, is universally regarded as the most liberal and “politically correct” network in the country.

Barry gave the media a roasting for refusing to air a commercial opposing SSM and for ignoring dissidents. He was withering as he rolled out the statistics:

“Are opponents of marriage equality getting an equal run in the media? Or at least a fair hearing? We don’t think they are.

“When Canberra Airport lit up in rainbow lights last Sunday to support same sex marriage, it was front page in The Age and The Canberra Times next morning and also big news in the Sydney Morning Herald. And it scored almost fifty mentions on radio and TV.

“But on Monday, when opponents of gay marriage piled flowers on the lawn at Parliament House it got just 14 mentions on radio and TV, one story on, and this brief report on page 6 of the Adelaide Advertiser. Sure, the airport was a better story. But the overall media coverage of the debate has also been skewed.”

The media is also lionising the spokespersons for Marriage Equality, he said, while ignoring representatives for the recently-launched Marriage Alliance group. There were 32 interviews with Rodney Croome and Christine Forster (the sister of the Prime Minister) in the first 12 days of August, but only 12 for their opposite numbers, David van Gend and Sophie York.

“The media has a bias,” says the Christian Federation’s Peter Kentley. “There’s no question it is pro same-sex marriage.” That’s a familiar complaint and one that is dismissed by many journalists as the bleating of losers. But Paul Barry says that Kentley is right on the money. “We think those figures speak for themselves and we can only agree with [him]”.

It’s about time someone spoke up. While giving opponents the silent treatment in the mainstream media, on Twitter leading journalists have been hyperventilating about bigotry. Bernard Keane, the political editor of Crikey, a popular website, tweeted  to his 44,000 followers that the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, was “a nauseating piece of filth” because he had lamented the outcome of Ireland’s referendum.

After a visiting journalist from London, Brendan O’Neill, was treated like a Klansman on Q&A, a current affairs panel personned by the ABC’s bolshie and beautiful, he wrote a scathing column for The Australian.

“The response to my comments, on Twitter and in parts of the media, proved my point. It can be summed up as: ‘How dare you say that the gay-marriage campaign is intolerant, you bigoted arsehole?! Get out of Oz!’ ‘Irony’ doesn’t even begin to cover this.”

O’Neill, who describes himself as “a godless Brit”, declared that it was “terrifying” that supporters of marriage between a man and a woman were being branded as bigots.

“Most people would back the idea that kids should ideally know their biological mum and dad. Indeed, adopted children often seek out their biological parents, believing it will help them make sense of who they are. Maybe they’re bigots, too?

“The response to Q&A shows that gay marriage is not a liberal issue. Rather, what we have here is the further colonisation of public life by an elite strata of society — the chattering class — and the vigorous expulsion of all those who do not genuflect to their orthodoxies. Whether you’re a climate-change denier, a multiculturalism sceptic or, the lowest of the low, someone who believes in traditional marriage, you’re clearly mad and must be cast out.

“The social impact of this illiberal liberalism will be dire. A whole swath of society — the old, the religious, the traditionalist — will feel like moral lepers in their own country, silencing themselves lest they, too, be branded scum.”

With a year to go before the issue is brought to a vote, there is time to push back against the witch hunters in the media. Having been exposed as bigots themselves, perhaps sanity will return to the press gallery. After all, as Paul Barry pointed out, “this is a conscience issue and an important change that’s being proposed, and surely both sides of the debate have an equal right to be heard.”

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.