From the Fifth Floor: NewsNet has responsibility to report

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In our campus community, controversial subjects can gain speed faster than Billy Ray Cyrus can take a career nosedive.

Apparently, this is what happened with an article that appeared in The Universe on Thursday.

The article, entitled “Parents struggle with children’s homosexuality,” focused on members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have homosexual children. Five individuals, a woman and two couples who are both members of the LDS Church and parents of homosexual children, were used as sources for the article.

Letters to the editor piled up quickly, drawing more reaction from BYU students than any other piece that has appeared in The Universe since the beginning of Spring Term. Most of the letters shared the same sentiments — homosexuality is wrong and that the comments made by those quoted in the article are simply an attempt to rationalize the teachings of the LDS Church.

The letters, a few of which have been printed today, are well-written and greatly appreciated. Letters to the editor give life and color to the opinion page because they provide students with a voice — the extent of which is matched by few other forums available on campus.

But I would like to clarify a few misconceptions with regards to the manner in which the story was presented.

Some of the letters received by the opinion desk insinuated that both The Universe and the writer of the article were somehow condoning certain behavior that is morally unacceptable. These readers suggested that the attention given to the issue of LDS parents with homosexual children was somehow a validation of the parents’ comments.

This is not the case. The article was a responsibly written piece that dealt with a legitimate issue in the community. The writer maintained objectivity while giving the sources used an opportunity to express their opinions concerning the matter.

The responses to the article were clear and correct in stating that homosexuality is, without question, a violation of God’s commandments. Many readers took exception with the attitudes of some of the individuals quoted and disagreed with the opinions given in regards to homosexuality. Such debate on the issue is healthy and encouraging.

However, it must be understood that the article was a news piece, not an editorial. To quote an individual is not necessarily to agree with an individual. Few journalists covering the crisis in Kosovo would condone the inhumane acts sanctioned by Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosovec. But at the same time, they would be foolish to pass up an opportunity to get a direct quote from Milosovec himself.

Dealing with the issue of homosexuality is in no way a comment on the issue itself. Every day, newspapers report on murders, burglaries and other socially destructive behavior. Reporting on an issue is far from advocating such actions.

More than a handful of readers were likely offended that the issue was even dealt with by the student-produced paper at a university sanctioned by the LDS Church. In response to this, I would like to quote the BYU NewsNet mission statement.

It states, “Our goal when we report the news is to present the information our audience needs or wants to know with honesty, accuracy, fairness, objectivity, fearlessness and compassion. We believe that journalists should continually seek for the truth, but never claim fully to possess it.”

For The Universe to ignore such an issue is contrary to its role as a newspaper. The article was actually developed in response to the Gay Pride Day celebration held in Salt Lake City on June 13. Every major broadcast news operation in the state carried a story about the day’s events — even KSL, a church-owned television station. In short, news happens, and it is a journalist’s responsibility to report on it.

The issue of homosexuality is an emotional one. But, again referring to the NewsNet mission statement, “We deplore prejudice of any kind. In our pages we refuse to perpetuate bias against any person for reasons of sex, belief, color, race, culture, ethnic background, age, marital status, handicap, non-membership in the LDS Church, or any other reason.”

What would truly be irresponsible is to ignore this issue simply because it generates strong reactions.

As a news organization, BYU NewsNet will continue its ongoing efforts to be objective in its reporting of events affecting our community. All readers are entitled to and encouraged to develop their own opinions when it comes to current events and issues.

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