August 11th 2001

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Cover Story: The building industry's Royal Commission

Canberra Observed: Telstra creates headache for Beazley pledge

Straws in the Wind: Peter's Friends

Western Australia: WA Liberals' preference deal could be decisive

Red light districts don't work

The Media

Singapore funds (letter)

Tony Abbott criticised (letter)

Birth dearth (letter)

Parenting payments (letter)

Tree cover (letter)

Drug Deaths (letter)

Middle Ages climate (letter)

LAW: International Criminal Court: the dangers

The companies driving US-Australia free trade agreement

Books promotion page

The Media

by John Styles

News Weekly, August 11, 2001
The tragic murder of a security guard at an East Melbourne abortion clinic, er, sorry, fertility control clinic, released a torrent of pent-up liberal venom.

The identity of the man who has been charged with the crime remains a mystery two weeks after the slaying. No motive has been established.

But the pro-abortion, pardon, pro-choice, zealots in the media knew. Instantly. And they moved swiftly to exact punishment on those they held to be in some way responsible. What we had was not a media trial, but a journalistic lynch mob.

From those left-liberal strongholds, The Age and The Australian, where euphemism, hypocrisy and double standards rule, the abortion industry's journalistic defenders sniped away.

Their targets were the anti-abortion movement in general and one group in particular - members of the Helpers of God's Precious Infants, who stage a vigil outside the clinic for a couple of hours each morning. Through prayer and counselling, the members of the group hope to influence those attending the clinic for an abortion to reconsider.

In their frenzy, journalists of The Australian, possibly careering on a Freudian banana skin, incorrectly referred to the group as Helpers of God's Precious Innocents. And, canvassing the possible arrival of US-style attacks, the newspaper turned to Queensland abortion provider Dr David Grundmann for expert opinion on the issue of violence at abortion clinics. Quite so.

[The Australian did not mention that Dr Grundmann is a provider of late-term abortions (20 weeks-plus). Nor did it describe the grotesque dilation and extraction method used to perform them.]

Avoiding the disturbing facts about abortion characterised much of the media coverage. It was mainly concerned with heaping derision and mockery on the anti-abortion advocates.

However, Herald Sun columnist John Hamilton proved a point when he referred to the lengths to which anti-abortion organisations would go to discourage abortion. "One [website] offers 33 grisly pictures of aborted foetuses," he noted in his July 19 column. On that point, Mr Hamilton, anti-abortion advocates are with you: the facts about abortion are indeed grisly and disturbing.

Even The Sydney Morning Herald, while using the slaying as an opportunity to lay into the Helpers of God's Precious Infants, was forced to admit in an editorial that "no medical procedure has greater emotional implications than abortion".

Premier Steve Bracks was reported to be "appalled" that members of the Helpers of God's Precious Infants resumed their kerbside vigil outside the clinic the day after the security guard was slain. Out of respect for the murdered man, Bracks thought the protesters should have "backed off". Yet for the operators of the abortion clinic, the very next day it was business as usual.

After three days of mostly unrestrained press attacks on the anti-abortion group, the newspapers seemed to sense that perhaps they were going too far.

On July 19, The Age ran an editorial that acknowledged that the killing did "not necessarily herald American-style violence".

The Australian also produced an editorial that called for calm in the debate. To achieve that, all the newspaper had to do was control the enthusiasm of its own reporters and opinion writers.

It was as if The Australian suddenly seemed to realise there were two sides to this story. That same day the paper gave opinion page space to Margaret Tighe, chairwoman of Right to Life Australia. Tighe had been criticised earlier in the week for commenting that "given the nature of what occurs in these places, it is a wonder there have not been any more of these incidents".

In her opinion piece, Margaret Tighe spoke out eloquently against the rising toll of aborted babies and what she described as "the increasing callousness towards human life". She wrote, "Those who want to achieve legal protection for the unborn will not be deterred by unjust suggestions of some that the act ... was somehow our fault. We will never use or condone violence in pursuit of our aims - as our past record has shown - but at the same time we shall never walk silently away from so much killing".

Two days later, The Weekend Australian ran a largely critical profile of Tighe by Kate Legge. In her diatribe, Legge firmly planted the comments and opinions of several Tighe critics.

More sparingly represented were the views of those who are closest to Tighe. Dr David Grundmann turned up again, this time as Legge's star witness. And, of course, not a word about the nature of the doctor's work found its way into Legge's story.

A week after the tragedy, as the frenzy wound down, Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja gave the story fresh momentum by "parachuting" into East Melbourne for a photo-op outside the clinic.

As Stott Despoja was providing insights into the nature of her "new" politics, one columnist was writing with balance and reason about the events of the previous week. Angela Shanahan of The Australian concluded:

"... despite this newspaper's [The Australian's] belated editorial calling for reasoned debate on abortion, there can never be any such thing. In a society that purports to uphold the sanctity of life, reasoned debate about taking innocent human life is of its very nature unreasonable. There will only ever be opportunism and hypocrisy."


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