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Lost in translation – AFP and the Seventh-day Adventists: Get Religion, October 10, 2013 October 10, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Seventh-day Adventist.
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Reports on the exorcism trial currently underway in Paris suburb of Essonne cast an interesting light on the internal workings of the French wire service AFP (Agence France Presse). And these gleanings do not do it credit.

A 7 October 2013 story about four people accused of having tortured a woman while they were performing an exorcism, shows gaps between the English and French versions.  The four accused exorcists claim to be members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and were motivated by that church’s teachings when they performed their exorcism. The English-language version reports the four are ex-Adventists and that the French branch of the church states their beliefs do not support amateur exorcisms.

The French version states the four say they were motivated by their Seventh-day Adventist faith — butomits the disclaimers and distancing by the church.

What can we make of this discrepancy? The English language version of the story as published in the Sydney Morning Herald under the headline “French torture trial opens over ‘exorcism’” opens with:

Four former members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church have gone on trial for torture over a violent, crucifixion-style exorcism carried out on a 19-year-old woman. Three men and a woman are accused of tying up the Cameroonian teenager in the position of Christ on the cross and keeping her bound to a mattress for seven days in the belief that her body had been possessed by the devil.

The four, including the victim’s former boyfriend, were charged with kidnapping, acts of torture and barbarism.

Style note — the proper designation for the church is Seventh-day Adventist, to whit a dash between Seventh and day and a lower case “d” in day.

The French language version as published in Libération under the headline “Ouverture du procès des exorcistes de l’Essonne” has a very different lede.

Le procès de quatre personnes, soupçonnées d’avoir séquestré et torturé une jeune femme pour l’exorciser, s’est ouvert lundi devant la cour d’assises de l’Essonne. Les quatre accusés, qui se réclament d’un mouvement protestant évangélique, comparaissent pour «arrestation, enlèvement et séquestration avec actes de torture ou de barbarie». Ils encourent la prison à perpétuité.

The trial of four people suspected of having kidnapped and tortured a young woman in order to perform an exorcism opened Monday at the Assize Court of Essonne.The four defendants, who claim to be part of an evangelical Protestant movement, have been charged to “false imprisonment, kidnapping with torture or barbarism.”< They face life in prison.

In the English language version the four are identified as being immigrants from the French Caribbean who are “former” members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And AFP reports the French branch of the church states the four have nothing to do with them.

The church says the people involved in the case were all expelled a year before the alleged attack and has stressed that exorcism of this kind cannot be justified by any of its teachings.

We do not see this information in the French language version. On first mention the accused are described as Evangelical Protestants. On second mention the accused say they were motivated by the religious tenets of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Eric, l’initiateur présumé des sévices, était son compagnon à l’époque des faits, qui remontent à mai 2011. Un soir, voyant les symptômes d’une manifestation diabolique chez Antoinette, il avait voulu la «libérer du diable». Les quatre mis en cause, originaires des Antilles, et la victime, Camerounaise, avaient formé depuis plusieurs mois un groupe vivant en autarcie dans le même appartement, devenu une véritable salle de prière.

Le procès s’est ouvert lundi avec l’examen de la personnalité de Lionel, 29 ans, qui se réclame comme les autres accusés de l’Eglise adventiste du septième jour, un mouvement évangélique qui compte de nombreux adeptes aux Antilles. Les accusés ont toujours revendiqué la sincérité et le bien-fondé de cet exorcisme, affirmant que le démon devait être chassé du corps d’Antoinette. Ils nient toute forme de violence. Le procès doit s’achever vendredi.

Eric, the alleged originator of the abuse, was the companion of the victim in May 2011 when the incident occurred. Seeing the symptoms of demonic manifestation in Antoinette one evening, he said he wanted to “liberate the devil.” The four accused are from the Caribbean while the victim is from Cameroon. For several months they had been living together in an apartment as part of a self-sufficient commune, which also served as a a prayer group.

The trial began Monday with the examination of Lionel (29) who claims that with the other defendants he is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, an evangelical movement that has many followers in the West Indies.The defendants have maintained the sincerity and validity of their belief in exorcism, saying the devil should have been expelled from Antoinette’s body. They deny any form of violence. The trial is scheduled to end Friday.

Why does the French version differ significantly from the English? Newspapers add and subtract material to wire service stories for reason of space and to add local color, content or editorial view. Did Libération make an editorial decision to omit mention of the four being “former” members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Why is the statement missing from the church rejecting out of hand the claims Adventist doctrines support self-help exorcisms? Is Libération up to something? Making a statement of some sort about Evangelicals or the Seventh-day Adventist Church?

No, the same language appears in the AFP story published by France24 – the omissions cannot be laid at the door of the newspaper. What then? I have not seen a follow up or corrected story from the French-language wires indicating this story was subsequently updated with the details found in the English-version. My sense is that we had two reporters and two editors at work — the French and the English.

Perhaps we are seeing national stereotypes at work. The French-language team omitted a detail they believed their audience would not find of interest, while the English language team included information that the Anglosphere would want to know. Or is this simply a case of the French team did a poor job in comparison to the English?

What ever the reason, the omission of key details and context leaves readers of the French version ignorant. Not a good outing for AFP I’m afraid.

Read it all in Get Religion.

Interview: Issues, Etc., January 22, 2013 January 25, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc.
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Here is a link to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 22 Jan 2013

4. The BBC’s Coverage of a Paris Marriage March & the Sydney Morning Herald’s Story “Anti-Gay Rights to Stay” – George Conger, 1/22/13

Sydney Morning Herald has a problem with religious freedom: Get Religion, January 17, 2013 January 17, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
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It is only two weeks into the new year, but I believe we may have a winner in the worst newspaper article of 2013 contest. A Sydney Morning Herald story entitled “Anti-gay rights to stay” is so awful, I am just about at a loss for words. Were I to say this story was anti-Christian, boorish, ignorant, and aggressively offensive I would only be scratching the surface. It takes a non-story — Prime Minister Julia Gillard will maintain religious freedoms in the new bill of rights under construction — and turns it into a gay bashing extravaganza.

It begins:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has assured religious groups they will have the ”freedom” under a new rights bill to discriminate against homosexuals and others they deem sinners, according to the head of the Australian Christian Lobby.

Under current law, faith-based organisations, including schools and hospitals, can refuse to hire those they view as sinners if they consider it ”is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion”.

Notice the quotation marks around the word “freedom”? What is that telling us? Read further into the story and you will find that there is nothing here other than the reporter’s indignation. There is no story. The prime minister has assured the leader of a lobbying group that the current rules governing the “freedom of religion” will not be changed. The SMH finds this deeply offensive, writing:

Discrimination by religious organisations affects thousands of Australians. The faiths are big employers, and the Catholic Church in particular is one of Australia’s largest private employers. They rely on government funding but because of their religious status are allowed to vet the sexual practices of potential employees in ways that would be illegal for non-religious organisations.

The story flow resumes with assurances given by two government ministers that there will be no change in religious freedom laws, followed by comments from church groups. (As an aside, I find the comments somewhat suspect. Knowing some of those who have been quoted, I believe their words have been misconstrued such that the issue of providing services has been conflated with hiring decisions. E.g., they do not discriminate in the provision of services but do reserve the right to employ like minded people.)

The article then brings forward a voice to support its editorial slant, and closes with a quote from the Attorney General that is crafted so as to make her look the fool. She is quoted as being in favor of expanding gay rights at the very end of the story after she states at the top of the piece she supports religious freedom expemptions– or in the SMH’s worldview — condoning anti-gay practices. This is a journalist’s way of calling someone a hypocrite without having to use the word.

Where do I begin? This article is so bad, so puerile, it could appear in The Onion or other comic websites as a farce — a caricature of biased hack journalism. Let’s take the word “sinner”. An emotional word not used by the prime minister or the Australian Christian Lobby spokesman but one inserted by the SMH into the narrative. It may give the story a crackle, but it also reveals the ignorance of the author of the words he is using.

Need I explain that religious organizations hire sinners every day? Yes, the SMH may have meant to say that religious groups do not want to hire particular types of sinner, but having decided to be clever, the SMH must take responsibility for its failure to intelligently use words.  Any editor who has half a brain should have known better than to allow such junk to go out under the newspaper’s name.

On a deeper level, however, the stridency of this article — its eagerness to defame and demean religious groups — suggests the decision to push a non story was deliberate, or the newspaper has been captured by a gaggle of gormless hacks unable to grasp the distinctions between unlawful discrimination and making hiring decisions based upon criteria shaped by church doctrine and discipline.

The sad thing about this SMH story is that it is not an outlier. A well written article entitled “The future of the press” by Keith Windschuttle in this month’s issue of The New Criterion looks at the reasons for the decline of the major newspapers in the English speaking world. Drawing upon William McGowan’s 2010 book Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of The New York Times Means for America, Windschuttle reports the collapse of the newspaper has been economic, political and existential.

McGowan makes it clear that the Times’ shift to the left was actually led by its publisher since 1991, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., who enshrined within his organization the ideology of the 1960s generation which he shared: radical advocacy, identity politics, and New Age management theory.

Windschuttle explains the decline as the result of “staff capture”.

But even on newspapers without a countercultural proprietor, there is an underlying problem. The bureaucracies needed to run daily newspapers are susceptible to staff capture. In the last thirty years, on those newspaper companies not controlled by traditional owners but run by boards composed mainly of the biggest stockholders, the autonomy that is essential for journalists and editors to do their job has been exploited by the Left. Once they reached a critical mass in an organization, leftists recruited others sharing their political and cultural beliefs. They proceeded to impose the cultural values of the Left onto the entire editorial output. This did not prove to be a successful business model because it estranged at least half their potential readership—the conservative half—guaranteeing their circulations would continue to fall.

What has been true for the Times has also been true of Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald. He writes:

One of its former journalists, Miranda Devine, who is from a well-known newspaper family and who was employed on The Sydney Morning Herald for ten years until 2011, has described her experience: “When I arrived at the Herald it was controlled by a handful of hard-left enforcers who dictated how stories were covered, and undermined management at every turn.” A former executive of Fairfax said the worldview of the collective was “inarguably Left-leaning, and anti-business. It was also anti-religion—especially anti-Christian—and hostile to bourgeois family values. The tragedy was that [Fairfax’s] core audience was a conservative audience. You’ve never seen a paper more disengaged from its core audience, particularly the [Melbourne] Age.”

Windschuttle’s article is behind The New Criterion’s pay wall, but I do encourage you to find a way to read it — even [heaven forfend] buy the magazine!

Sadly, the article “Anti-gay rights to stay” is an example of the decline and fall of a once great newspaper.

First published in GetReligion.

Can a feminist be pro-life?: Get Religion, February 17, 2012 February 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Popular Culture, Press criticism.
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Can a feminist be pro-life? Can a feminist be a Christian?

Here’s another. Can an atheist be pro-life. Or, is the pro-life movement merely a stalking horse for the Christian right?

While some of this field has been plowed by Christopher Hitchens —  a professed atheist, Hitchens answered the question of whether an atheist can be pro-life in an article he wrote for Vanity Fair (The answer is yes. He was an atheist and opposed abortion.) — it is new to Australia. And the debate over who is a feminist is a live one.

These questions were at the heart of a media furore in Australia last month following the publication in the Sydney Morning Herald of a profile of pro-life activist, Melinda Tankard Reist.  MTR — as she has come to be called on twitter and other social media sites — is the author of Big Porn Inc, a study warning of the pernicious cultural and social effects of pornography.

The SMH’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Melinda Tankard Reist’ was a mostly positive appraisal of MTR, written in the breathy People magazine style seen in the early stories about Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.

Melinda Tankard Reist is a woman of strong opinions. She is also a woman about whom people have strong feelings. If you’ve seen her proselytise on pornography on TV, read her opinions on the sexualisation of girls in the newspapers, or watched her go after do-badding companies on Twitter or through her activist group Collective Shout, chances are you have a few opinions about her of your own.

She’s a wowser. A no-nonsense political crusader beloved by both teenage girls and their mothers. A religious conservative in feminist clothing. A brazen careerist. A gifted networker and generous mentor.

The Canberra-based activist, mother of four and author of four books is difficult to pigeonhole and impossible to ignore. (and so on and so forth)

The article prompted a sharp response in an opinion piece entitled “There is no such thing as a pro-life feminist” published in the SMH by Anne Summers which challenged MTR’s right to call herself a feminist. The original story also prompted a torrent of abuse.

Writing in the Herald Sun in an article entitled “Pro-lifer sparks charge of the spite brigade”, Mirando Devine stated:

The cyber bullies who piled on to anti-porn activist Melinda Tankard Reist last week are behaving like 17th-century witch hunters, not the enlightened tolerance queens they claim to be.

Tankard Reist’s crime was to be profiled not unfavourably in a Sunday magazine, which described her as one of Australia’s best-known feminist voices.

This infuriated the miserable Orcs who lurk in the dark recesses of Twitter and the blogosphere.

Up they sprang to pour calumny on Tankard Reist, a pro-life feminist and 48-year-old mother of four from Mildura.

She was nothing but a fundamentalist Christian trying to hide her religious beliefs. Therefore, her views on the sexualisation of children, the objectification of women, the corrosive effect of internet pornography, were suspect.

Oh, and she should be abused with a coffee cup.

One blogger attacked MTR for speaking out on abortion and offered this put down.

She’s a Baptist and attends Belconnen Baptist Church. … She is anti-abortion. She is deceptive and duplicitous about her religious beliefs. … What does does she have to hide?

Well that’s another one to add to my list: Freemasons, the Tri-Lateral Commission, the Illuminati, Bilderburgers, Bonesmen and now Baptists — agents of Satan all. But I digress.

Writing in The Age in an article entitled “Another day, another fresh wave of e.hate”, MTR objected to the the standards of debate being exhibited in the social media culture, where physical and verbal threats had crowded out rational discourse in battle of ideas. Other feminists soon entered the fray.

The directors of a feminist publishing house defended MTR in a story entitled “The Authentic Feminism of Melinda Tankard Reist”, posted  the ABC’s Religion and Ethics site which argued that being a feminist did not mean checking one’s mind at the door or conforming to a single party line on any issue. Other opinion pieces soon appeared in the Age, “Feminism’s clique does not help the cause”, in the SMH, “Plenty of room under the feminism umbrella” and “Tankard Reist explain yourself”, and on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics site, “Media must do better on porn debate” that adopted differing views on the controversy.

The story took a further twist when MTR engaged an attorney to ask the blogger who said she was a Christian fundamentalist to retract her statement. MTR is not a Baptist and does not attend Belconnen Baptist Church. She is a Christian, however, and has not hidden her faith.

The Herald Sun reported that this attempt to set the record straight prompted a new attack.

The Twitter hate exploded. Leslie Cannold, a so-called “ethicist”, was among the more energetic defenders of Wilson, averaging two tweets every hour every day, indicating a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Tankard Reist.

“She wouldn’t be considered newsworthy if correctly described as fundie Christian. They’re all anti-porn raunch & choice.”

There is more than a little envy among Christophobes at Tankard Reist’s growing influence and good standing with young women.

In a summary of the debate printed in the opinion section of The Drum on the ABC entitled “Tankard Reist furore: feminists on the attack”, Claire Bongiorno questioned the anti-Christian sentiments of some of MTR’s critics.

Eva Cox has suggested that Tankard Reist’s views may be incompatible with “basic feminist criteria” because of her ‘religious’ views.

… Cox argues that people claiming to be feminists should declare their ‘religious’ beliefs. Such declarations would allow those assessing their feminist views to identify any presuppositions with which a feminist writer may be working. Cox stated in a recent article in The New Matilda that, if we knew Ms Tankard Reist’s “religious” views, then it may be that her feminist views “fail to meet what I would see as basic feminist criteria”.  However, knowing the “religious” views of a feminist writer may not be useful and it may result in misunderstandings and incorrect inferences being drawn.

The suggestion that one needs to scrutinise Tankard Reist further because of what she has identified as a “struggling spirituality”, also suggests a suspicion and intolerance for faith.

Women who ascribe to some kind of faith can and do still have agency to think and form views about feminism. There is also no reason to assume that women can’t critique aspects of their particular faith with which they disagree. For example, some Catholic women may criticise the patriarchal structures that limit female participation and leadership in their church. It is patronising to women of faith that they should be treated differently in intellectual debates.

This is all great stuff. A wonderfully spirited debate is taking place in the op-ed pages of Australia’s leading newspapers that is seeking to flesh out a pressing social and ethical issue — can a women be a feminist and a religious believer? Can she be pro-life and and feminist?

The place you will not see this issue mentioned is in the other parts of the Australian press. Apart from a few articles in the technology section about the perils of abuse on social media sites and the legal liability of libeling someone via twitter or Facebook, I’ve seen nothing.

I hold up this debate in Australia’s op-ed pages for the approbation of GetReligion readers because of its high quality — and because I do not believe we will ever see this sort of thing in the American press. On blogs yes. In newspapers or on the website of television networks, no.

This is my way of making a plea for American newspapers to make space for feuilletons. What in the world is that, you may ask. In the U.S., the most read feuilleton is the “Talk of the Town” section of the New Yorker — a collection of light news, art and literary observations. The German press takes the concept somewhat more seriously and its fueilleton section is the field of  battle in the war of ideas and provides solid reporting on intellectual, literary, philosophical and religious news.

There are specialty websites that meet this high culture niche, but in the race to be the most mediocre, the most vanilla newspaper in the land — offensive to none, advertisers for all — the press is abandoning one of its key duties. The duty to educate and inform the life of the mind.

So GetReligion readers, can a feminist be pro-life? Can a feminist be a Christian?

What say you?

First published in GetReligion.

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