Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 11, No. 3, 1996


Earlier research in America and elsewhere has shown considerable bias and misinformation in media coverage of so-called "new religions” (sometimes referred to as 'cults'). This paper reports mostly qualitative research which raises questions about the overall objectivity and neutrality of journalists covering such groups. The paper includes discussion of specific episodes of media bias concerning new and minority religions in Australia, as well as other research from that country. A situation which involved an Australian journalist facing ethics charges in relation to a story written about a number of groups referred to as 'cults’ is included, as a development with implications about how journalists treat such phenomena.


Deviant religious groups have been the source of conflict and controversy throughout history, attracting attention from societal institutional structures, including the media (Robbins & Anthony, 1979; Bromley & Richardson, 1983; New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board, 1984; Beckford, 1985; Bromley & Robbins, 1992; Richardson, 1994b; 1995c; Shupe & Bromley, 1994). Meyers (1960) gives many historical examples of negative media characterisations of such groups. More recently, accusations of deception and exploitation have become common media themes in stories from a number of different countries about contemporary new religions movements (NRMs), such as the Unification Church, Hare Krishna, Scientology, and the Bhagwan Rajneesh movement, among others (Bromley et al., 1979; Lindt, 1979; Hill, 1980; Shupe & Bromley, 1980; New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board, 1984; Dobbelaere et al., 1985; van Driel & Richardson, 1988a, b; van Driel & van Belzen, 1990; Beckford & Cole, 1988; Selway, 1992; Richardson, 1992; Beckford, 1995; Borenstein, 1995).

This observation suggests that major media are not always neutral institutions simply disseminating facts about societal events and trends. Media representatives and organizations seem deeply involved in the actual construction of information and opinion about events in a society, thus playing a major role in the process of defining deviant religious groups. This role is illustrated, for instance, by the apparent influence of media treatments of new religions on public opinion about such phenomena (Bromley & Breschel, 1992; Richardson, 1992; Gallup, 1987).[1]

A rather solid consensus has arisen among scholars studying the media in general (see e.g. Hall, 1975; Cromer, 1978; Cohen & Young, 1980; Herman, 1985), and media—social movement interaction in particular (Tuchman, 1978; Molotch, 1979; Gitlin, 1980; Shoemaker, 1984; Kielbowicz & Scherer, 1986; van Driel & Richardson, 1988a; Richardson & van Driel, 1996) that the media are often not an objective, passive medium in social conflicts, but instead promote an ideologically dominant status quo, hegemonic approach to issues (see especially Herman & Chomsky, 1988). A so-called 'structure of balance' approach (covering all sides of an issue), idealistically promoted as the basic ideological goal of newswork in the United States (Nelkin, 1987), is seldom reached when controversial social and political issues are involved (Cromer, 1978; Herman & Chomsky, 1988; Anderson, 1992).

Gary Marx (1982), in discussing external efforts which either damage or facilitate social movements, mentions that media become actively involved in creating an unfavorable and deviant image of social movements and their members (especially leaders). According to Marx, all kinds of image-damaging information (e.g. arrest records, gossip, apostate accounts) can be supplied to friendly journalists. Anderson (1992) offers a detailed, somewhat biographical, account of the major role played by media in the famous Australian 'Hilton bombing' case which resulted in his spending years in jail (more on this case later).

Richardson (1995b) discusses the significant role played by the media in the Waco tragedy involving David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. In an analysis relying heavily on Herman & Chomsky (1988), he examined how the media prepared the general public to accept the type of violent tactics used against the Davidians through their participation in a government effort to construct them as extremely deviant. Also discussed is the way that most media representatives passively accepted the virtual total control exercised over them in that situation by law enforcement officials, a development with far-reaching implications.

Although Western broadcast media are generally subject to a 'fairness doctrine' (requiring equal coverage of all sides of an issue), on many occasions media appear to function as "moral entrepreneurs" (Becker, 1963), and as institutions of social control that marginalise, delegitimise and discredit oppositional movements (Herman, 1985; Shoemaker, 1984). As Molotch and Lester note, "the focus is typically on how to handle dissidents, and not on the points raised by the dissidents" (Molotch & Lester, 1974: 108).

All of this is hardly surprising if we realize that it has been shown empirically that news and political editors have strong feelings about deviant groups in society, and that these feelings are related to the perceived legality, viability and stability of these groups (Shoemaker, 1984). Extremely deviant groups (in Shoemaker's case, the Nazis and the KKK) were considered less legal, less viable and less stable than groups like the League of Women Voters and NOW (National Organisation of Women). Richardson & van Driel (1996) surveyed US journalists writing about new religions, finding some quite negative views about such groups, views that seem related to the types of coverage such groups received (van Driel & Richardson, 1988a,b).[2]

Kielbowicz and Scherer (1986: 91), on the other hand, conclude that bias in media coverage, "... derives not so much from the personal ideology of reporters, as often suggested, but principally from impersonal organizational forces and professional norms". Herman & Chomsky (1988) make the similar point that individual reporters are not the major problem with bias, but instead suggest that the competitive way media is organised in America contribute to its being susceptible to management by dominant economic forces in that society.

This apparent difference of opinion deserves further research to reveal what elements might contribute to biased reporting of new and minority faiths.

This report will offer some mainly qualitative evidence from the Australian context about media treatment, examining views of individual journalists, as well as insights into organisational considerations that affect coverage. This evidence should shed light on the question of what motivates negative coverage of minority religious groups, and what might be done to change such coverage.

Australian Media and New Religions

Selway's Research

Deborah Selway had done the most relevant work in Australia concerning media treatments of new religions. She has done a limited replication of the van Driel and Richardson US content analysis study (1988a,b), using the Sydney Morning Herald as her focus (Selway, 1989) and found similar patterns to those uncovered in the van Driel and Richardson reports. She also followed up with interviews of major religion writers in Australia (Selway, 1992), doing fairly informal interviews with eight of the nine regular religion staff writers working for major Australian papers (there were 13 dailies in Australia at the time).
Most of the 1992 Selway study of journalists focused on reporting on religion in general, and, while quite interesting, cannot be detailed here.[3]

Fortunately, Selway did inquire about the journalists' coverage of minority religions, and those findings are relevant. Several of the eight writers admitted that they lacked information about such groups, and that their coverage was deficient. However, most "do not hold any concerns about reporting the minority religions", according to Selway (1992: 21). One writer said this was an area religion writers felt insecure about, and added that he and some others were attempting to learn more about such groups. The realities of the situation, with most religion writers doing such writing as a minor part of their job, dictate against them spending much time developing contacts and finding out more about the newer religions.[4]

The Samways Book, Dangerous Persuaders

The perspective of many Australian journalists and their media organisations concerning minority religions was revealed rather dramatically when a prominent publisher (Penguin) published a short (148-page) book by a Melbourne therapist in which she attacked a number of therapies and 'cults', casting a wide net that even included Amway (Samways, 1994). This was the first such 'anti-cult' book published in Australia, and thus it may have deserved some media attention. However, the near pervasive treatment of the book by virtually all media was surprising, especially given its failure to cite available scholarship as well as its quite subjective approach.

I heard of the book while on sabbatical in Australia for a year, through contacts with participants in new religions and therapy groups. The book attacked some groups by name, sometimes making quite bizarre claims that seemed obviously untrue. After reviewing the book I dismissed it as of little consequence; it was similar to dozens of such books I had seen in the US. It was simply a reporting of a number of "atrocity tales" (Bromley et al, 1979) told by ex-participants in a number of groups, as allegedly reported to Samways as a part of her own therapy practice. The book contained a listing of some major 'anti-cult' writings, as well as addresses of the major anti-cult organisations in Australia and nine other countries, including the well-known Cult Awareness Network (CAN) in the US. The book recommended contacting the Australian affiliate of CAN for help in extracting people from such groups.

Virtually every major print and electronic media outlet in Australia did a major review of the book. Samways was interviewed on radio and television, and lengthy stories appeared in the print media, sometimes accompanied by a number of other anti-cult orientated stories.[5] Headlines for the stories were such things as "Stolen Minds", "Inside the Cults of Mind Control" and "Mind Control", often in large letters filling the top of the page. Virtually all the stories and interviews accepted the claims made by the author of the book, in total disregarded the obvious competitive aspects of what the author was saying.[6] Some stories asked for people to send in their own tales of "how they were misused by the cults", promising to print some of the better letters later. A few stories also included discussion of possible law suits, so that the cults could be attacked in the courts "as had been successfully done in the U.S.".[7]

The reaction to this book seemed to show a confluence of interests between new organisations and the Samways message. Editorial decisions were made to 'puff Samways'[8] and this was done, with features of various kinds, reviews of the book by religion writers, pictures of the author prominently displayed, and many accompanying articles that supported in their content and tone the message of the Samways book.[9]

It was clear that the Australian media had decided how to frame stories about 'cults' and new therapies, and the Samways book was a useful vehicle to promote the chosen perspective. Alternatively, perhaps the Samways book simply served as a catalyst that solidified amorphous negativity about so-called 'cults'. Whatever the exact situation, dissent from the collective negative definition was not allowed, at least at this time of this writing.[10]

Other Australian Media Coverage of Minority Religions

The thorough study published by the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board (1984) as part of its unsuccessful effort to get religion included in the NSW anti-discrimination law contains a number of examples of outright media bias against new religions, and about how some media representatives co-operated with government, law enforcement authorities, and other detractors in campaigns against minority faiths or to stop some specific project a group was undertaking (such as building a training center or place of worship). Included in this report are discussions of episodes involving the Unification Church, Scientology, the Hare Krishna, The Family (formerly the Children of God), and Ananda Marga, as well as of older minority religions, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists. The following will present only two of a number of episodes referred to in the NSW report, as anecdotal evidence about media treatment of minority religions in Australia.[11]
Ananda Marga and the Hilton Bombing. Tim Anderson, a member of Ananda Marga accused in the famous 'Hilton Bombing' case in 1980 in Sydney, Australia, writes about the close connections between media and police, and the way police funnel information to co-operative journalists (Anderson, 1992: 264-293). Anderson, who spent 7 years in prison as a result of a conviction for crimes he apparently did not commit, does a thoughtful analysis of the role of the media in conditioning public views about crime and the police. Included is a discussion of the way journalists develop dependence on state sources for news, and the way that, in his own case, special favours were granted by the police as a sort of reward for coverage that fit the police 'line' or way of framing a story.[12]
The Ananda Marga have had a history of political involvement, and a few of their members had engaged in violent acts such as self-immolation, in protest of the imprisonment of their leader in India. One such suicide involved an Australian woman who died overseas. This background, focused on by the media made the Ananda Marga group a ready target for blame when a bomb exploded at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney during an international conference of political leaders in 1980 (NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, 1984; Molomby, 1986; Richardson, 1995c).
The group had protested the presence of the Prime Minister of India at the conference, but probably had nothing to do with the bombing. However, a massive police and media campaign focusing on the bombing allegations contributed greatly to the conviction of three members, including Anderson, for other crimes. They served 7 years in prison before being released after a special commission reviewed the evidence and found it wanting. Some key evidence appeared to have been fabricated by law enforcement personnel, in an effort to secure a conviction (Molomby, 1986). Anderson, after his release, was later charged with the bombing itself and put through another lengthy second trial which resulted in an acquittal, an experience his 1992 book discusses in depth, with considerable detail on media involvement. His information is quite damming of certain media outlets and journalists.[13]

Lindy Chamberlain and the Dingo.

Perhaps the most notorious example of Australian media bias concerns the famous Chamberlain case, in which Lindy Chamberlain, a member of the Seventh-Day Adventists, was accused of murdering her 9-week-old child. She claimed that it had been taken by a dingo (wild dog) while she and the family were camped at Ayers Rock, a famous landmark in central Australia. Initially, an inquest was held in which the death was ruled to be from unknown causes. However, a huge media focus on this strange event contributed to a second inquest which concluded that the baby was probably murdered by its mother as part of some bizarre religious ritual. A subsequent trial resulted in a guilty verdict, and Lindy Chamberlain spent two-and-a-half years of a life sentence in jail before being released. A special commission eventually found the forensic evidence weak and insufficient to have been relied on for a conviction, but the jury had brought a guilty verdict nonetheless (Bourke, 1993; Harding, 1992).

This case has been discussed at great length since by scholars, and a major movie was made, based on a book by a lawyer who followed the case closely (Bryson, 1988). Most of the commentary is quite unflattering about the role of the media, and indeed some commentators suggest that the media drove the entire matter, with its quite biased coverage (NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, 1984; Bentley, 1992; Brown & Neal, 1992; Howe, 1992). The fact that the Chamberlains were members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (the father was a pastor) was focused on by some journalists, who reported, for instance, that the Adventists believed in infant sacrifice. The unusual name of the child, Azaria, was reported to mean "sacrifice in the wilderness", and the implication of many stories was that the child had been raised just for a special sacrifice, carried out by the mother. Also, the press showed no understanding at all of statements made by Ms Chamberlain about the death of her child. For instance, Ms Chamberlain is reported to have said, "It was God's will that my daughter died", a statement quite understandable to anyone familiar with fundamentalist Christian thought, but which was interpreted by many media members as indicating that Ms Chamberlain did not care what happened to her child or, worse yet, may have sacrificed her out of a belief that God desired such an act.[14]

This case is now used as a classic example of how rules of evidence can be manipulated and juries fooled by slick testimony from purported experts (Harding, 1988; Bourke, 1993), and as example of what can happen when anti-religious hysteria grips those in the legal system (Richardson, 1993b). Media actions deserve considerable credit for fomenting the hysteria that developed surrounding the case, a point made in recent major coverage of the affair.[15]

Journalistic Ethics Charges.

In most of the stories flowing from editorial decisions of many Australian media to publicise the Samways book discussed above, there was a widespread tendency to lump religious and therapy organisations together and refer to them as 'cults'. The stories included claims by Samways that the groups were doing all sorts of things under the rubric of 'mind control' to trick people into participating. A number of such groups protested being in the book at all, some of the specific statements made about them, and being lumped with other unpopular organisations. Letters were sent and calls were made to the publisher of the book (Penguin), and to media outlets that promoted the book so openly. Some even threatened legal action against media outlets, and the author and publisher of the book.

One such group, an Australian self-help therapy organisation known as Kenja, took their protest a step further than most, and filed ethics charges with appropriate bodies against one journalist and his employing paper. They claimed that the ethics policies of the organisations had been violated by the stories about them. They were protesting against being referred to as a 'cult', and being misrepresented in the article and sidebar stories accompanying it. They were also claiming unfair treatment in that the story was published in the major weekend edition of the paper with the group not being notified or given a chance to respond and defend itself.

One of the bodies to which they protested, the Australian Journalists Association, decided to hold a hearing on charges against one of its members, a writer for the major daily newspaper in Melbourne, The Age.[16]

The hearing was before a panel of journalists who were also members of the organization. I became involved as a result of Kenja representatives having heard media interviews done on local radio. They called to ask about use of some writings relevant to the issues raised by their charges (particularly Richardson, 1993a), and asked me to consider addressing the hearing panel directly on the issue of the meaning of the term 'cult'. This was agreed to, and after 15-20 minutes of testimony, the hearing panel invited me to sit in on the hearing, and even allowed some further participation.

This may well have been the first such hearing in Australia (or any place else) on the issue of treatment of minority religious or therapy groups, and being able to observe the nearly three hour session first hand was quite informative. Representatives of Kenja made a lengthy presentation of their concerns about being misrepresented in the articles, as well as their efforts to get a hearing after the articles were published. They were claiming serious damage to the organisation and the reputations of specific leaders of the organisation by the way the stories were handled. As part of that presentation, I presented material about the rapid evolution of the term 'cult' from a technical one in the sociology of religion to a popular term with negative connotations. I also presented other relevant data, such as that from Pfeifer's (1992a,b) experimental work demonstrating the strong impact of the use of the term 'cult' in the legal setting with mock juries. I discussed a number of recent efforts to limit the use of the term 'cult' in formal legal proceedings as well.[17]

Considerable debate was engendered over the testimony, with various dictionary definitions being argued by panel members and the 'defendant' in the hearing (the journalist who wrote the stories on which the complaint was based). The discussion was impressive in its seriousness, as were other deliberations during the hearing. The hearing left the impression with this observer that the journalists on the panel and the one being charged were taking the matter quite seriously indeed.

The charged journalist, in his testimony, apologised for not notifying the group of his story and admitted that this was a mistake. He stated that he was directed to interview Samways by an editor, and that he did that and stood by the interview, but that he should have notified groups referred to, especially in the case of Kenja, since he ran a 'sidebar' story about the organisation including some very serious allegations by a former participant. Kenja representatives felt afterward that they had at least had a decent hearing. The panel eventually ruled that the journalist had violated journalistic ethics by not allowing Kenja representatives to respond to the charges brought against them in the stories. However, the decision did not penalise the journalist for use of the term 'cult', claiming it was an ambiguous term with no clear negative connotation.

It is not clear what impact this decision will have on Kenja and, more interestingly from the point of view of this paper, on journalists in Australia and elsewhere. The hearing itself was unprecedented, and the fact that it was held at all may indicate that Australian journalists are becoming more aware of problems associated with covering minority religions and therapy groups.

Conclusions and Discussion

The Australia evidence cited leaves the impression that Australian media are at a stage in their relationship to NRMs that American media were a decade or so ago (van Driel & Richardson, 1988a,b).[18]

At the present time many Australian journalists (and their editors and publishers) seem quite negative toward NRMs, and they seem to know little objective information about them. Many Australian journalists readily accept materials from anti-cult organisations, however, and allow the opinions of anti-cultists to be printed or aired, usually with little criticism or rejoinder. Such was the pattern found earlier in the US, a pattern that was ameliorated somewhat with the passage of time (van Driel & Richardson, 1988a). This 'lag' theory may offer some understanding of what is taking place with Australian media as they cover new religious phenomena, many of which were introduced into Australia later than in the US.[19]

An alternative explanation for the current quite negative climate toward NRMs in Australia is that the sentiments being expressed by journalists reflect more recent events, especially the Waco tragedy in which David Koresh and nearly 100 of his followers died in the conflagration. A number of Australians were involved in the Branch Davidians, and some of those who died at Waco were Australian, as was one of those eventually placed on trial for the killings of the law enforcement agents who died at Waco. Indeed, there was an early 'Australian connection' with the events in Waco, as a major national Australian television program, "Current Affair", did an expose of the Davidian groups that helped 'educate' the American law enforcement organisations about the group and its alleged activities (Richardson 1995b). Regrettably, there is no baseline public opinion data on the issue of NRMs available from Australia for the time prior to the Waco episode, so discerning whether that tragedy dramatically impacted public opinion (and opinions of those in the media) in Australia is difficult.

Whatever the reason for the negativity in Australian coverage of NRMs, it does exist (Selway, 1989), and it has been demonstrated both through specific stories by individual journalists, and by management and editorial decisions about NRMs. Whether such apparently strong views can be countered in some way, or tempered by the passage of time and growing familiarity, as seems to have happened in the US (at least up to the Waco tragedy) remains to be seen. The possibility that journalists might engage in serious self-education in light of actions, such as the ethics hearing described herein, seems possible, but remote. Thus, it seems reasonable to say that Australian media coverage of NRMs will generally continue to be problematic, when compared to standards of objectivity and fairness.[20]

'Cult stories' sell newspapers and gain viewers, and the groups themselves are apparently so little valued that they are susceptible to being used in such a fashion. As such groups and movements are sacrificed on the alter of competitive journalism, however, those treating them so should understand that other things are also being sacrificed at the same time. Freedom of religion and individual autonomy are values that suffer. In terms of this study it would appear that the concept of fair and objective media informing the general public is damaged as well.


The paper was developed while the author was on sabbatical leave in 1994 at the University of Melbourne, Department of Criminology, the support of which is greatly appreciated.

Dr James T. Richardson is Professor of Sociology and Judicial Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he teaches sociology and social psychology, and directs the Master of Judicial Studies Program for trial judges. He has written or edited a number of books in the area of new religious phenomena, the latest of which are Money and Power in the New Religions (1988) and The Satanism Scare (1991, with J. Best & D. Bromley). He also has written numerous articles on new religions, focusing on conversion processes, media coverage, legal issues, international concerns about new religions. Professor Richardson spent a sabbatical year in Australia and has also carried out research in Eastern and Western Europe. Correspondence: Department of Sociology, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada 89557-0067, USA.

  1. These studies show extremely high levels of negative opinion about new religions, even though most Americans have not had direct contact with them, suggesting that mass media play a key role in shaping such negative opinions.
  2. The van Driel and Richardson research involved a large longitudinal study of major print media in the US. The research revealed that the controversial new religions were treated quite differently from a comparison groups of older minority faiths which had themselves previously been much-maligned in the media. The study showed that coverage of new movements often followed a "stream of controversies" approach that failed to inform readers of most aspects of life in such groups, and instead focused on accusations against such groups, presented from a negative point of view. The research has been directly replicated in Britain (Beckford & Cole, 1988) and in Australia (Selway, 1989), with similar findings
  3. For instance, the report reveals that most Australian dailies have relegated regular religion reporting to a minor status, and that several have recently dropped regular religion columns or limited religious reporting in other ways. Also, the report verifies that religious news must itself be newsworthy, and is not reported just for the sake of informing people about religious activities or developments. Selway says: "Controversy, novelty and a local angle fit the formula. The writers are aware of that and, in most instances, submit to it—to do otherwise would be to waste their already limited time on stories that would not gain print coverage" (Selway, 1991: 21). See also Henningham (1995) for a discussion of the religiosity of journalists in general in Australia.
  4. These general findings about lack of information and concern in reporting on minority religions gain further support from the experiences of the author during a sabbatical year spent in Australia in 1993-94. During this period the author was interviewed by print and electronic media representatives over 20 times on topics concerning new religions. Three were with the same radio religion reporter, but the rest were with different journalists. A few of these interviews revealed serious efforts to learn about the subject, with reporters reading articles furnished by the author, as well as other materials. However, the majority of the interviews were conducted by journalists who knew little about new religions and who took a generally 'anti-cult' stance toward such phenomena. Indeed, sometimes considerable surprise was expressed by journalists that anyone would hold a view that was not strictly 'anti-cult' in its orientation. The journalists often had materials furnished by Australian anti-cultists (usually material from American sources) or had talked with representatives of such groups, and they readily framed their interview or story in a somewhat anti-cultist perspective. This situation was not pervasive, but occurred frequently.
  5. It should be noted that a few of the media contacts of the author mentioned in footnote 4 were invitations to respond to earlier interviews with Samways, after those interviews generated harsh criticism from some of the groups she so openly criticised. My typical response was to say I would be happy to be interviewed about the general issues raised by the book, but that I was not interested in debating that specific book. I was involved in one national television debate with Samways, after I returned to the US (accomplished by satellite technology).
  6. The fact that no media bothered to check the claims or Samways's credentials is revealing and shows considerable readiness to publish such claims no matter the source. Samways, in an earlier book entitled Your Mindbody Energy (Samways, 1992) talks about her own abilities to heal across distance (p. 39), her ability to heal with her hands and efforts to find materials that would block the energy in her hands from impacting the patients (she tried metal cooking trays and wooden chopping boards as shields) (p. 25), she claimed that her grandmother could adjust the dial of a radio without touching it (p. 43), she claimed to be telepathic (p. 90), and she discusses something she calls the "body aerial", by which is meant "... the human body is really an aerial transmitting and receiving information to and from the cosmos" (p. 47). Apparently, Samways's "new age" techniques and theories were viewed by Australian media as acceptable, but those of her competitors were not. She says she " ...employs neurolinguistic programming and eye movement desensitization and programming ..." (Bagnall, 1994: 42). Plainly Samways had managed to position herself very well within Australian media and thus developed a major competitive edge in this market. Why and how the Australian media allowed itself to be used in this fashion is a fascinating question. See Kilboume & Richardson (1984) for an application of a sociological conflict model to the competition between therapies and the new religions, and see Richardson (1994a, 1995a-c) for discussions of ethical and substantive problems raised by claims such as those that pervade Samways's short book.
  7. One prominent story in a major paper was headlined "Cults to Face Court as Victims Fight Back" (Hawes, 1994). Included was the following paragraph: "She (Samways) said a test case involving a group using such techniques in Australia is being explored following successful damage claims in the United States." A similar comment was made in a full page story about Samways in the Australia version of Newsweek (Bagnall, 1994).
  8. William Randolph Hearst, the controversial American West Coast publishing mogul, is reported to have sent a note to his editors saying "puff Graham". It took the editors some time to figure out that he was referring to a little known North Carolina preacher named Billy Graham. Now, of course, Graham, who owes much to Hearst's attentions, is perhaps the most well-known Christian evangelist in the world
  9. One such directive to a reporter to interview Samways resulted eventually in that reporter facing ethics charges brought by one of the groups Samways attacked. More on this later in the paper.
  10. One reporter for one. major Australian paper wrote a lengthy critical piece on the 'anti-cult' movement after becoming convinced the "cure was worse than the disease". This author and a number of others, including representatives of some of the religious groups attacked by the anti-cult movement in Australia, were interviewed at length for this piece. When it was finished the editors for that paper decided not to run it because "it did not fit with our approach to these issues". The reporter was quite disheartened and called several of those interviewed, including this author, to apologise for the situation.
  11. Regrettably, this source, largely written by Juliet Sheen, is no longer readily available. It is out of print, with no plans to reprint what is plainly the best sourcebook on institutional treatment of minority religions in Australia.
  12. The 'special favour' motif is apparent in many stories involving new religions. For instance, the raids against communal homes of The Family in various countries around the world described in Richardson (1993c) were often accompanied by electronic media representatives, sometimes in helicopters. Media representatives may have been allowed this level of involvement in exchange for favourable treatment.
  13. Some scholars and others believe the scapegoating of the Ananda Marga members was an effort to avoid a close look at what happened with the bombing (Molomby, 1986; Hocking, 1993). Claims that the bombing was actually staged by certain law enforcement and security personnel, coupled with many suspicious circumstances and unanswered questions, as well as the apparent lack of interest in the government in pursuing the matter continue to encourage speculation about official culpability. Anderson says of media's role in his case:
    The power of the mass media is a formidable force: constructing our view of the world, shaping community attitudes, reflecting powerful private and state interests. It is easy to despise but difficult to ignore. To me it was chilling to sense the personal hostility of some sections of the mass media and to feel, for a time, their crusading zeal turned against me. They had created and were feeding themselves on a myth that I was some sort of powerful figure to the "brought down". Closer to the truth was that, for a time, I had become just another easy target. (Anderson, 1992: 290.)
  14. Adrian Howe, feminist criminologist at La Trobe University, has written about the role of the media in this case (Howe, 1993), as well as produced a play about the media role in the Chamberlain case, using only actual words from media presentations of the case. She says using the exact words of journalists who wrote about the case shows clearly the bias that existed, as they effectively turned Lindy Chamberlain into a witch in the minds of readers (see Farouque (1993) for a review of this play).
  15. The Australian, the major national paper in Australia, ran two major stories on the Chamberlain affair in December, 1995. A full page story by Ken Crispin, the QC who represented the Chamberlains at the Morland Commission hearing which exonerated them and led to Lindy's release from prison (Crispin, 1995), had a headline of "An Australian Witch-Hunt", with the word 'witch-hunt' in letters two inches high. The fifteenth anniversary story was quite sympathetic toward the Chamberlains (who divorced years ago apparently under the pressure of the case). The opening paragraph shows the tone:
    The Chamberlain case should continue to trouble the Australian conscience. It is not just that an innocent woman was convicted of murdering her baby, but that the Australian public engaged in a witch-hunt of previously unimagined ferocity.
    The story goes on to recount the terrible treatment of the Chamberlains and their children, and implicates the media in fomenting the tragic episode. The legal system is roundly criticised, as well. The tone of this media treatment is markedly different from most accounts of the events of the case some 15 years earlier.
    The same issue had another front page story (McGregor, 1995) entitled "A Macho Conspiracy Against Lindy". This story had a theme that the reason why Ms Chamberlain was treated so harshly involved her being a feminist. I respectfully disagree and suggest that this theory ignores the fact of her minority religious background that so obviously fueled the flames of intolerance about her.
  16. A second body, the Australian Press Association, also agreed to a hearing focused on the specific news organisation itself, resulting in a similar ruling against the paper, which then published a statement concerning the ruling.
  17. A motion was made prior to the San Antonio murder trial of the Waco Branch Davidians charged with the deaths of the federal agents killed in the initial raid that the term 'cult' not be allowed in the courtroom. The motion was dismissed by the trial judge, who apparently thought the term applied to the Davidians. A federal law suit was filed in 1993 by the New Alliance Party (NAP), a Black radical political organisation, against the FBI for referring to them as a "political cult". This action is related to concerns by more overtly religious organisations because of apparent involvement of Cult Awareness Network in FBI studies of the NAP. This suit was also eventually dismissed. In Melbourne a magistrate ruled that attorneys for Child Services Victoria (CSV) could not use the term 'cult' in open court discussions in a case involving efforts of CSV to remove 93 children from The Family, a communal new religion formerly known as the Children of God. This latter instance may be the first time in Western jurisprudence that the use of the term 'cult' has been limited in any way.
  18. A motion was made prior to the San Antonio murder trial of the Waco Branch Davidians charged with the deaths of the federal agents killed in the initial raid that the term 'cult' not be allowed in the courtroom. The motion was dismissed by the trial judge, who apparently thought the term applied to the Davidians. A federal law suit was filed in 1993 by the New Alliance Party (NAP), a Black radical political organisation, against the FBI for referring to them as a "political cult". This action is related to concerns by more overtly religious organisations because of apparent involvement of Cult Awareness Network in FBI studies of the NAP. This suit was also eventually dismissed. In Melbourne a magistrate ruled that attorneys for Child Services Victoria (CSV) could not use the term 'cult' in open court discussions in a case involving efforts of CSV to remove 93 children from The Family, a communal new religion formerly known as the Children of God. This latter instance may be the first time in Western jurisprudence that the use of the term 'cult' has been limited in any way.
  19. The more recent Waco tragedy has, of course, caused a flurry of media attention to that group as well as other minority religions. The long-term impact of that event on media treatment of newer religions remains to be seen. However, much of the more recent treatment of the Waco tragedy by the media has been quite critical of governmental actions involving the Davidians (see Dillon & Richardson (1995) for a "politics of representation" analysis of how minority religious groups are defined).
  20. Indeed, many of the controversial newer religions in Australia were apparently introduced from the US after the groups had developed strength there.
  21. An exception to this general negative tendency has occurred in Australia with coverage of the episodes involving the taking of about 150 children from several communal homes of The Family (formerly known as the Children of God). While initial publicity, apparently orchestrated in large part by governmental officials, was extremely negative, later there was a shift in treatment. As more information on the raids was made public, along with results of examining the children and studying the group's current lifestyle practices, some reporters and editorial boards decided that the raids were a mistake. They editorialised against the efforts to take the children, and roundly criticised the police and child services agencies for their tactics. The theme of stories shifted from "cult abuses children" to "bungling bureaucrats attack religious group and waste taxpayer money". The long-term impact on journalists, editors and the general public of this widely publicised episode remains to be seen. See Richardson (1993c, 1995c) for fuller discussions of this interesting situation.


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