The Australian Press Council has considered complaints about an opinion article, Priority is to protect marriage, in The Herald Sun, Melbourne on 25 January 2012. It was written by former tennis champion Margaret Court who was also identified as "a pastor”.
Mrs Court argued that Australian society was losing touch with fundamental Christian values and on a steep moral decline, especially in relation to sexuality. Amongst other things, she wrote: “Let me be clear. I believe that a person’s sexuality is a choice … In the Bible it is said that homosexuality is among sins that are works of the flesh. It is not something you are born with. My concern is that we are advocating to young people that it is OK to have these feelings.”
Complaints to the Council from several sources said this passage was inaccurate because modern scientific knowledge indicated that sexuality was not a matter of choice. They also said it was offensive, incited homophobia and would aggravate problems of bullying and suicidal feelings amongst young gay people. They considered that the newspaper should apologise for publishing the article.
The newspaper responded that the article was clearly an opinion piece and it was entitled to publish a variety of opinions. It said those who disagreed with the article could submit material in response. It also noted that the print version of Mrs Court’s article was immediately adjacent to a shorter opinion piece by Doug Pollard, headlined Court wrong on the issue of gay choice, which strongly rejected her views on homosexuality. Two days later it published an article of similar length and prominence to Mrs Court, which was written by another former tennis champion, Martina Navratilova, and which argued against Mrs Court’s views on sexuality.
The Council concluded that the newspaper was entitled to publish the article, even though it was likely to cause widespread offence, provided that it gave opportunities for prompt and extensive expression of other views. As the factual assertion about choice of sexuality was very probably inaccurate and potentially dangerous, the newspaper should either have edited it or published accompanying rebuttal (preferably from an authoritative source).
The Herald Sun met these requirements to an acceptable degree in its print editions. The Council noted, however, that the online version of the Court article, which is what at least one of the complainants saw, did not include a link to the Pollard article and accordingly did not provide an immediate and clear rebuttal of the assertion about choice of sexuality. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld on this ground in relation to the online version but is not upheld in relation to the print version.
Note (not required for publication by the newspaper):
Separate complaints were received on this article from Simon Berry and Jim Culbertson.