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 (see video above).

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:

... condemned on social media, and critics took to the church’s Facebook page to object.
“Hopefully there are churches in the area that cater to ALL Christians and not just the ones who fit in the narrow minded view of this “Church of God”. I’m sure Christ would be very disappointed in your view of Christianity,” one post said.
Others started taking to the church’s review section and posting one-star reviews.
“A closed-minded group which overtly discriminates against members of our valued community and their (very reasonable) quest for marriage equality,” one woman wrote.
Cartoons of same sex couples and sailors waving rainbow flags were posted in the comments under unrelated posts by the church. All the reviews and comments about the issue later disappeared.
At the weekend, someone also removed letters from the church’s signage so it read: ‘God designed marriage between a man & a man”.

Think about the wording in that last sentence: "someone also removed letters from the church's signage."

Hmmm. That sounds like an act of vandalism to this reader -- why didn't the Herald Sun call it that? And why, Herald Sun, did readers have to go 13 paragraphs into the story before hearing from the local congregation's pastor?

There's no doubt that the marriage referendum -- a supposedly non-binding postal ballot -- is causing much distress in Australia as the pro- and anti- forces line up. But it's disappointing when local media find it unnecessary to put both sides front and center, and to downplay a presumably criminal act -- vandalism -- as if it had little consequence.

Just imagine the media reaction if an "anti" campaigner had "also removed letters" or otherwise modified a message board on a church sign backing the "pro" side. And if that reaction would be more hostile than that towards the Bellbowrie vandalism, then is it too much to conclude that however Australia advances on this matter, some of the professionals in its news media are not being fair?

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