Pro-family group exposes a media bias

CHARLOTTETOWN – In 20 years of writing letters to our local papers, I had found that a logically written argument would always be accorded respect, even if it wasn’t politically correct.

Thus I was shocked this winter to find myself and REAL Woman/PEI under attack by the province’s largest newspaper.

For four months The Guardian misrepresented our opposition to protecting sexual orientation via our Human Rights Act. It used inflammatory language, and repeatedly refused to allow us to correct a mistaken reference to MP Svend Robinson.

So REAL Women president Sandra Brow and I met recently with Jim Palmateer, the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, to review our concerns and ask for explanations.

“Why is the paper trying to discredit and silence us? Why has it deliberately misinformed the public by refusing to accept our correction and then offering Svend Robinson an undeserved apology?” we asked, repeating a question we had put in writing six weeks earlier.

Palmateer seemed sceptical, so we reviewed all the evidence, which he read with care.

Passing swipe

The trouble began in November when Guardian staff member Barb MacKenna wrote a column mocking the Legislative Committee that 10 years earlier heard the province’s first pro-gay-rights brief, presented by the Lesbian Collective. She took a passing swipe at the brief by REAL Women/PEI, the only opposition in 1988.

After consulting Palmateer himself, I responded with an extensively referenced “Opinion Piece” that pointed out MacKenna’s distortions, defended REAL Women, justified the questions and comments by Committee members – and stated that Hansard records showed MP Svend Robinson had introduced a federal bill to legalize adult-child sex.

Soon after it appeared, I discovered that Robinson had introduced amendments, not a bill; the record was not in Hansard but in minutes of a Committee meeting.

Within 48 hours, a correction was on the desk of editorial page editor, Roseanne MacDonald.
Generally regarded as somewhat supportive of pro-life, pro-family efforts, MacDonald refused to print it. “Your information is suspect,” she said. “Provide a transcript.”

She still refused to print the correction. “Robinson was simply arguing a point of law. We don’t interpret his motives the way you do,” she said. In early February, she refused again.
In the meantime, REAL Women had presented a new brief to the current Legislative Committee. This inspired Barb McKenna to launch a vicious attack that included the words “animosity, tirade, bizarre, blatant hate-mongering.”

Describing REAL Women as “obsessed with shipping up a frenzy of misinformation, fear, and hatred toward homosexuals,” she listed the more disturbing facts, we presented without so much as hinting that they were backed by many pages of references, and much supporting documentation.

Later she wrote, “[Seeing or hearing] REAL Women PEI make a presentation on the issue of homosexuality . . . will help you educate yourself on issues of intolerance, hate-mongering, and paranoia as it is practised on Prince Edward Island today.”

A Guardian editorial described our brief as persecution, and accused us of twisting facts, and “portraying gays and lesbians as inhuman and degenerate beyond belief.”

Palmateer appeared unaware that we had immediately sent letters of protest and additional documentation to all key members of the editorial staff, including McKenna and himself.

We explained again that in 1986, the federal government planned to amend the Criminal Code by lowering the age of consent for most sexual activity to 14, and to reduce the penalty for breaking this law from 14 years in prison, to 10. To protect young people from sexual predators, the age for anal intercourse was to be 18 – except for married couples. The Act also specified two people, in private.

The 30-page transcript shows how persistently Robinson tried to get the Committee to accept his amendments. Citing recommendations of the Equality Rights Committee (which he helped write), he argued (unsuccessfully) for the following changes that would not benefit 14-year-old boys, but the homosexuals who would gain sexual access to them.

  • Lower the age to 14; 18 is discrimination based on age and on sexual orientation, and therefore discriminates against homosexuals;
  • Delete the section on sodomy with its age limits and penalties;
  • Drop all penalties for anal intercourse involving persons under 18. (Since married and over-18s were already exempted, there would be no penalty for anyone);
  • Reduce the prison term to two years; provide for even lighter [presumably non-prison] penalties;
  • Do not restrict the number of participants in a sexual activity.

By this time Palmateer was looking very serious. Next came the letter from Svend Robinson that his paper had run on Feb. 4. It said, “I have never introduced a bill that would decriminalize sex between an adult and a child – nor would I.” (Implying that he would never try to do what the transcript revealed he certainly did do.)

It concluded “I trust that you will apologize publicly for publishing this utterly false and defamatory statement by Ms. Beagan, and that in future you will fulfil your responsibility to check the accuracy of statements published in your paper.’

Too quick apology

Directly below, was the paper’s response. “We have looked into Mr. Robinson’s concerns outlined in his letter and have found that, in fact, he did not introduce a bill that would decriminalize sex between an adult and a child as was asserted in the guest opinion. We regret the error and apologize for it.”

At this point in our meeting, Palmateer was visibly disturbed. He must finally have realized that the paper had walked into a trap.

Although he had been informed by letter six weeks earlier, he professed to be surprised and puzzled by the repeated refusal to print our correction, but deferred further comment until editorial page editor MacDonald returned from holidays.

He denied any intention to silence us. Then he passionately regurgitated the politically correct “homosexuals are entitled to the same basic rights as everyone else” rhetoric. The Editorial Board is firmly agreed on this, but totally opposed to intolerance, he noted.

He offered no suggestions when we asked how to restore the credibility his paper had destroyed.

(Doreen Beagan is a member of REAL Women PEI, and an occasional contributor to The Interim).