A Scottish tabloid libels the Churches of Christ

Tabloids will always be with us. Few will admit to taking Jesus-shaped potato chips, astrology, Elvis and UFO sightings and Kardashian stories printed by The National Enquirer, the Star, The Globe, the National Examiner and the Weekly World News seriously -- but American Media Inc. does quite well for itself by feeding the guilty pleasures of the American public. The New York Daily News, the New York Post and similar newspapers are tabloids of a different sort. They are written in a simple and sensational style — compared to the "quality" newspapers or broadsheets like The New York Times, Washington Post or Wall Street Journal — and give more prominence to celebrities, sports and crime than their staid sisters.

A divide exists also in Britain between quality tabloids like the Daily Express and Daily Mail (some will no doubt choke over the appellation "quality") and the down market "red tops." Sharing a common red nameplate, the British red tops like The Sun, the Daily Star, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Record and the Daily Sport are more akin to the Daily News/Post than The National Enquirer in that while they too have horoscopes and celebrity gossip, they also report the news of the day -- with naked girls on page 3.

But they also have a well-deserved reputation for bile and have earned the sobriquet the "gutter press." Take this story in the Glasgow-based Daily Record entitled "Parents' outrage as extremist US religious cult hand out creationist books and preach to kids at Scottish school."

From start to finish, this article is junk. Not only is it junk, it sets out to be malicious. Below the over-the-top title appears a disturbing photo with this caption: "Face-painted Jared Blakeman is one of the 'missionaries' that has been in classrooms at the school."

The article opens:

HORRIFIED parents fear an extremist religious sect has been trying to brainwash their kids after it was allowed to infiltrate a Scots primary school.

A head teacher invited the US Church of Christ, which rubbishes evolution and counts homosexuality as a sin, to minister to pupils. The “missionaries” at the school include face-painted Jared Blakeman, pictured in a T-shirt with the slogan AIM -- short for “Adventures in Mission”.

Many parents at 400-pupil Kirktonholme Primary in East Kilbride only realised their children were being exposed to the evangelical group’s agenda when kids brought home alarming books they had been handed at assembly. The creationist books, defended by head teacher Sandra MacKenzie, denounce the theory of evolution and warn pupils that, without God, they risk being murdered in a harmful, disgusting world.

Parents have called for emergency talks with education chiefs, where they will demand the sect’s removal from the school.

The story continues in this line for another few hundred words in a style reminiscent of Der Stürmer. Substitute "Jews" for "Church of Christ," and with this article alleging secretive sects seeking to destroy the pure Scottish race through their pernicious doctrines, you have a story straight out of 1930's Germany.

Calling the Churches of Christ an "extremist sect" is ludicrous and pejorative. It seeks to denigrate rather than inform. As to the complaints cited by the article, it uses the weasel words of "many" without identifying how many or who. Are one or two parents or "many" parents upset? And what upsets them? We learn:

But the Record can reveal sinister undertones to their eight-year involvement at the school.

The Church of Christ have targeted Kirktonholme as a “mission” and have several members helping with classes and giving lessons in religion.

Church members like Blakeman – photographed as a scary Pirates of the Caribbean character -- were allowed in to work as classroom assistants and help with homework and in other mainstream roles.

What utter garbage. Is such conduct illegal? Does it violate Scottish education rules? No, but admitting a church has been conducting outreach to a school with the school principal's support and under state guidelines for religious education would deflate the story.

There is a cruel tinge  as well. By using the photo of a volunteer with his face painted like Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, it implies this is how the volunteer dressed when helping at the school. Did he? Or is the Daily Record seeking to vilify or caricature a member of this religious group for its own ends?

In Britain, publishers agree to abide to a voluntary code of conduct administered by the Press Complaints Commission.

Article 1 of the code states in part:

1) Accuracy

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving the Commission, prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance.

Article 12 states in part:

12) Discrimination i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

Were I the Scottish Church of Christ, I would file a complaint with the commission. Yes, it is only the Daily Record, a disreputable tabloid, but this article is libelous, malicious and evil -- it is a disgrace to journalism.

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