An Australian bishop’s veto of a gaming industry proposal to donate funds to a church social service agency to hire additional gambling addiction counselors has been met with incredulity by the Sunday Telegraph. In a story entitled “Unholy fight over gaming as Bishop refuses money from clubs” the Sydney-based newspaper's editorial voice spoils an otherwise interesting story. It does not appear to comprehend that the Anglican Bishop of Armidale Rick Lewers is taking a moral stand that the gaming industry cannot buy redemption.
This is not a bad article in that there is an attempt to present both sides of the story. We do hear from the bishop and the casinos -- but the context is missing and the story framed so as to paint the bishop as a prig. The article begins:
A BISHOP has refused thousands of dollars from clubs to pay for more counsellors to help problem gamblers.
Clubs around Tamworth and Armidale, in the state's north, want the local Anglicare counselling service to put on extra staff as demand grows across the region. After nearly two years of talks, the clubs have agreed to give a percentage of their takings - up to $30,000 a year - in return for access to additional counsellors. However, the talks unravelled last week after the Anglican Bishop of Armidale, Rick Lewers, canned the idea as he felt it would compromise his ability to speak out about gambling.
Instead, Bishop Lewers wants gamblers to consider joining their local church to socialise instead of spending hours "pouring pension money" into poker machines.
The construction of the lede determines the trajectory of the article. Proposition A holds that clubs, private gaming establishments, have created a need for gambling addiction counseling services. Proposition B is that these counseling services are provided by Anglicare-- a church-run social services agency.
Fact A is the news that the casinos and Anglicare have been in talks about providing addiction counseling services and that the casinos would donate “up to $30,000 a year”. Fact B is the bishop’s refusal to take the funds. Fact C is the explanation that the Bishop believes he would be compromised by taking casino money.
Assertion A by the Telegraph is that the bishop does not want to help gamblers and B is that he wants to steer them away from casinos so that they may join “their local church to socialize”.
Standing in back all of this are the assumptions that the casino industry can atone for its sins by giving money to the church -- Australian Anglican indulgences --- and that the church should be a good sport and take the cash. The implications of the construction of the lede are that the bishop is opposed to a good deed because of petty concerns about pumping up church attendance -- perhaps pulling in the punters to the church hall for bingo rather than have them use the slot machine at the casino.
The Telegraph does give the bishop three paragraphs to explain his position -- that gambling is a social evil; the church’s social service agency will help anyone with a gambling addiction problem; the church would welcome the opportunity to minister to those with gambling problems on casino grounds; taking money from the casinos -- who facilitate the addiction -- in order for the church to help them break the gambling addiction is morally compromising. Well and good.
The article then moves to comments from the casino industry criticizing the bishop’s moral qualms. It then closes with a jab from a casino executive that seeks to puncture what he believes to be the bishop’s moral pomposity.
ClubsNSW CEO Anthony Ball said: "The real losers here are the people who have a problem with gambling or alcohol who would have really benefited from the range of initiatives ."
By crafting the article in this fashion -- premise, assertion, side a, side b -- the Telegraph is telegraphing its agreement with side b's closing statement from the casino executive.
A church complaining about an unfriendly article that treats its leaders as moral humbugs for standing on an unfashionable principle (gambling is socially harmful and, oh yes, a sin) is neither new nor extraordinary. What is exceptional about this story is the unsubstantiated assertion that the Bishop wants people to go to church not casinos to socialize. Nor does the Telegraph seem to comprehend that it is reporting on an issue present in literature, the movies and in newspapers across the globe. American readers may remember the New York Times report last year about Mexican churches and the drug cartels.
There was an opportunity to tell a great story here -- but lack of knowledge and prejudice prevented that from happening.