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Same-sex marriage story on protest outside a Brisbane church failed to ensure fairness and balance

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Distressing protest: Supporters of same-sex marriage blocked the driveway of a Catholic church while protesting an information evening on Safe Schools, which had been cancelled. Photo: Nine.com.au.

THE Australian Press Council has concluded that a News Corp Australia story published during the lead-up to last year’s same-sex marriage vote, failed to ensure fairness and balance in reporting a protest outside a Brisbane church.

The story on the news.com.au site on September 8 was headlined “Marriage equality supporters clash with church-goers in Brisbane protest” to describe a protest action by dozens of same-sex marriage supporters outside the St Michael’s Church, Dorrington, as they awaited people arriving for an information evening entitled “Safe Schools – Education or Social Engineering”.

The sub-heading read: “Same-sex marriage supporters claim cars were used as weapons in the first violent clash between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigners ahead of the postal vote”.

The Press Council said the News Corp story breached standards of practice in reporting there was “a ‘violent clash’, the basis for which appeared to be only one quoted demonstrator”.

“There was no attempt to test the reliability of the claims, particularly an allegation as serious as people driving their cars ‘nearly at full speed into the yes campaigners’,” the Press Council concluded.

“Absent (were) police or other comments supporting such statements and absent an opportunity for anyone from the Church to provide comment.

“The article appeared to rely on untested claims of a single demonstrator that ‘people drove their cars nearly at full speed into the yes campaigners’.

“The article contained no material supporting the claim that the clash was violent.

“The claims were questionable on the information presented. Police were said to be in attendance but ‘no arrests were made’.

“… Video (from Channel 9 embedded in the article) depicted protesters chanting with placards and police ushering a slow-moving car through the crowd of demonstrators.”

After the evening protest, the meeting organiser Stuart Beavis, who chairs the local chapter of the Knights of the Southern Cross, described to The Catholic Leader a chaotic scene in which parishioners were shouted at and their cars blocked from entering the church grounds.

Mr Beavis had arrived more than an hour before the scheduled 7.30pm meeting to warn would-be attendees that the information night had been cancelled.

The guest speaker Queensland director of the Austrualian Christian Lobby Wendy Francis had told organisers there were security concerns about the meeting, following contact with police.

In its conclusion of the News Corp breach of standards, the Press Council concluded that publications must take reasonable steps to ensure that news reports were “accurate and not misleading” and that “writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts”.

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