Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fair & Balanced Now? // Baltimore's Fox 45 Reverses Course & Adds Pro-LGBT Link to Website with Anti-Marriage Petition

BACKGROUND: Last week, Maryland Juice complained that Fox's Baltimore affiliate WBFF 45 was.breaching journalistic ethics by engaging in blatant political advocacy. The television station's website posted activist links directing readers to take action on two of the Maryland GOP's favorite issues: 1) a petition to overturn same-sex marriage in Maryland, and 2) a "Stop the Gas Tax" website from the rightwing group Americans for Prosperity. There was no context for the links, nor was there any explanation provided. Instead users who clicked on the Fox News links were immediately steered to political action sites. Not very fair and balanced, eh?

After complaining to a few of Fox Baltimore's advertisers, we followed up our article with a report from the Washington Blade. They noted that WBFF's rightwing owners, Sinclair Broadcast Group, appeared to have foisted the activism onto the local news station. In digging further, we also noticed that Fox Baltimore's employment non-discrimination notice had curiously omitted any discussion of sexual orientation -- even though that is a protected class in Maryland.

A Response from Fox 45: We asked representatives from Fox and Sinclair to shed some light on their motives -- and after a day or so, Maryland Juice received a perfectly polite email from WBFF's manager. He defended the links and suggested they were there to simply note the existence of the movements against the gas-tax and same-sex marriage. He also asked for a call to discuss the matter. But before I could even get around to it, a Maryland Juice reader sent word that Fox 45 had taken steps to address to controversy. First, they changed the website header to include more neutral language than previously used - (ie: "Stop the Gas Tax" is now "Maryland Gas Tax," while "Same-Sex Marriage Petition" is now simply "Same-Sex Marriage). More importantly, the Fox 45 website no longer directs readers to rightwing political action sites. Instead, readers are directed to landing pages that provide a little more context on the issues.

See screencaps of the "Before and After" below:

FOX 45 WEBSITE BEFORE:

FOX 45 WEBSITE AFTER:


"SAME SEX MARRIAGE PETITION" LINK BEFORE: 

"SAME-SEX MARRIAGE" LINK AFTER:
"STOP THE GAS TAX" LINK BEFORE:



"MARYLAND GAS TAX" LINK AFTER: 


CONCLUSION: Maryland Juice is glad to see that Fox Baltimore can be responsive on such matters. Granted, some will argue that the new gas tax landing page is a bit tilted, but this seems like a reasonable enough compromise. After all, it is one thing for the media to tilt coverage on tax rates, but it is another thing completely for them to stoke animus towards the rights of a single group. Okay then -- onward to defeating this referendum!

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