April 21st 2001

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Articles from this issue:

INTERVIEW: Refugees - what should we do?

EDITORIAL: Defence - the way forward

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Costello's future linked to Howard's fate

INDONESIA : Can Wahid survive IMF demands and army intrigue?

TRADE : Why US trade deal won't fly

ENVIRONMENT: Kyoto greenhouse Protocol "dead in the water"

New Voluntary Euthanasia Bill in SA

Grain farmers tackle crisis in agriculture

Straws in the Wind



COMMENT: How modern culture erodes family ties

DRUGS: Guarded optimism after Melbourne summit

ECONOMICS: Victims of the "new economy"

EDUCATION: "Educational Left" - how it failed schools

BOOKS: "How many divisions ... ?"

BOOKS: Business ethics: 'NO LOGO', by Naomi Klein

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by John Styles

News Weekly, April 21, 2001
When the Vatican announced that George Pell would become the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, we were reminded of how certain sections of the Australian media are committed to the defence and promotion of the militant gay agenda.

In the media hysteria that followed the announcement, ABC current affairs went into hyperbolic overdrive. So did David Marr of The Sydney Morning Herald. Marr is the author of that tirade against religion, The High Price of Heaven: The Enemies of Pleasure and Freedom. In the book, Dr Pell is identified as one of the enemies of the things that Marr regards as pleasure.

The news of Dr Pell's appointment was all over the media on the morning of Tuesday, March 27; and the labels flowed freely on the ABC all day. On ABC Radio's AM program, Dr Pell was "controversial and ultra-conservative" according to the compere. AM reporter Rebecca Barrett described his media image as "deeply conservative", and included the scathing, over-the-top comments of former Human Rights Commissioner Chris Sidoti in her package. Barrett also ran sound-bites of Cardinal Edward Clancy and Sister Mary Moody.

By the time the news was posted on the ABC web site, Dr Pell had become an "arch-conservative". When ABC Radio's The World Today aired at noon, the ABC elected to present only one view of the appointment and the "shock waves" it had generated - that of Pell critic Dr Paul Collins. If that seems a little lopsided, you must remember that this is the ABC, where balance occurs "over time".

By 5.00 pm, when the early edition of ABC Radio's PM went to air, presenter Mark Colvin had secured an interview with Dr Pell. Colvin applied the "arch-conservative" label in his introduction, but at least asked the Archbishop what he thought of that description. "I think that's a political term. I think it's a little misleading," Dr Pell said. "I certainly stand four-square behind the Pope and the church's doctrines, but in terms of policies and procedures I think you'll find me very flexible, and on matters of social justice ... I'm certainly pro-life, pro-family, but I'm certainly also strongly in favour of giving the battlers and the poor a good run."

Then Colvin went on to use homosexuality as a kind of touchstone issue. For a liberal journalist, anything short of endorsement, and preferably enthusiastic endorsement, is questioned, as this excerpt reveals:

MARK COLVIN: You're coming now to be the Archbishop in a city which is, for instance, the home of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. What's your stand on that?

GEORGE PELL: Look, there are many more good families in Sydney than people who are of another persuasion and my ....

MARK COLVIN: Sorry, could you explain what you mean by that?

GEORGE PELL: Yeah, well, there are many more straight families - mums and dads and children - rather than homosexual people.

MARK COLVIN: But this is a city which is not just tolerant, but welcoming of homosexuality, if the crowds at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras are to ... are any indication. You seem to be suggesting that straight families are in some way better, or that families that contain gays are in some way tainted?

GEORGE PELL: I am certainly in favour of mums and dads and children and I will be doing everything I can to support that. I bear no ill will towards any individuals or any groups and I believe that the numbers at the Mardi Gras were a little bit down and I certainly don't propose to boost them by any inappropriate condemnations.

That night, ABC Television's The 7.30 Report also included interview excerpts of Archbishop Pell in its package. As well, the program lined up Pell critics Chris Sidoti, Dr Paul Collins, Sister Mary Mooney and Michael Kelly of the Rainbow Sash movement. Oh, plus a few words from Mary Helen Woods; see, they're balanced.

Come Lateline at 10.30 pm, the hyperbole was ramped up again with reference to Dr Pell's "hardline views" and the news that "the gay community is putting him on notice". This was by way of an introduction to a discussion in which the critical views of David Marr were balanced by those of Mary Helen Woods.

Marr savagely attacked the Archbishop across a range of issues, from an allegation Dr Pell helped to "rescue John Howard's re-election" to the Archbishop's attitude to drug injecting rooms and, of course, homosexuals. "Has he been sent north from Gomorrah to reform Sodom?" Tony Jones, the program's presenter, asked.

"He's going to have a hard job of it," Marr said. "I'm a Sydney atheist and I saw what he's up against. There were at least six gay journalists there [at the press conference] and they were all wanting to know."

At one point, perhaps sensing that he might be going too far, Marr dissociated his newspaper from his tirade. "I am speaking now not as a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald, but as a private commentator on these issues," he declared. In hindsight, it seemed an unnecessary distinction to make. Marr churned out the same themes in an article that appeared in the newspaper the very next day and again in a second story later that week.

"When Pell hits Sydney, everyone will know it," David Marr wrote. Let's hope so. Archbishop Pell has the liberals worried. They fear him and what he stands for. That's good.

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