Press: Saying no to the media

by
23 July 2008

by Paul Handley

Anglican identity-crisis: Above Dr Rowan Williams and below“Dr” Radovan Karadzic PA

Anglican identity-crisis: Above Dr Rowan Williams and below“Dr” Radovan Karadzic PA

IN PREPARATION for the Lambeth Conference, Channel 4 devoted last week to a series of studies of Islam.

IRONY and paradox are often confused. My guide to irony is whether it makes you wince.

Try this one out: Tuesday, Lambeth Conference. At the lunchtime press conference, the Archbishop of Brisbane, who is fronting the media team, introduced four speakers.

Clive Handford, the retired Bishop of Cyprus & the Gulf, spoke honestly about the state of the Anglican Communion, the degree of suspicion and upset. Tom Bair, married to the Bishop of Rhode Island, spoke about the spouses’ programme; he ended, with a break in his voice, saying that it would be “a tragedy of great proportions if this Communion came apart”.

Sebastian Bakare, Bishop of Harare, spoke movingly of the courage of faithful Anglicans, who attempted to worship in their churches despite the brutality of Mugabe’s police, who supported the deposed and excommunicated former bishop, Nolbert Kunonga.

Finally, Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, gave an impassioned account of conducting the funeral of a murdered 19-year-old, coming close to tears as he expressed the need to preach good news to the poor.

Four great stories, which left the packed, overheated press room quite stunned. They even applauded Dr Bakare. Just the sorts of stories that should be coming out of Canterbury — even the one about trying to sort the Communion out — to prove that Anglicans are interested in more than sex.

At roughly the same time, the bishops of the Province of Sudan issued a statement about sexuality. It was pretty standard stuff, but unexpected, since Sudan had chosen to be represented at the Lambeth Conference. The Sudanese Primate, Daniel Deng, followed it up with a trip to the press room in the middle of the afternoon, when he called on Bishop Gene Robinson to resign.

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One of the complaints by the Sudanese was that the debate about homosexuality was obscuring other, more pressing concerns. It doesn’t take much effort to work out what the effect of their Tuesday statement was.

THE RELATIONSHIP between the press and the conference organisers — mediated through the media team — is deteriorating nicely. Having been told earlier that journalists could not attend the cell groups, the indaba groups, or the “self-select” seminars, and some of the plenaries, it was found that the fringe meetings were also out of bounds, unless the meeting organiser agreed otherwise. A journalist had been ejected from a meeting (on the subject of mediation) the previous evening.

The latest news was that members of the press were also barred from the 7.15 a.m. eucharist, because “it is important for bishops and their wives to be able to worship freely”. The image conjured up was of obtrusive television interviews being conducted at the communion rail. Journalists do actually know how to behave themselves during services. It felt like dragging our Lord into the organisational pettiness. The least the organisers could do is to lay on a public eucharist before the bishops’ service.

THE OTHER ROW on Tuesday was about a list of those attending. This has not yet been forthcoming — and might never come forth — because of “security reasons” (10.30 a.m. press conference) or “privacy laws” (1.30 p.m. press conference).

We did wonder, briefly, whether the security reasons had something to do with Radovan Karadzic masquerading as Rowan Williams (see below); but the Archbishop later visited Dave Walker’s cartoon tent, and there was no hint of a Serbian accent.

Lots of press questions were about the presence of bishops from provinces that had previously announced that they were boycotting the conference. “Nigerian bishops” (10.30 a.m. press conference) changed to “a fax from a Nigerian bishop indicating that he was coming” by 1.30 p.m. “So,” a German reporter asked dryly, “the fax is here but not the bishop?”

After a tetchy discussion about all these restrictions, a journalist asked, without a hint of irony: “What, then, is the point of our being here?” A member of the media team said grumpily afterwards: “Well, you asked to come here.”

I THINK we were all a bit awestruck by the beautiful choreography of another press/ organiser encounter. Ruth Gledhill, The Times’s religious-affairs correspondent, attempted to get into one of the self-select seminars and was barred, naturally enough. The title of the seminar? “Never say ‘No’ to media”.

I THINK we were all a bit awestruck by the beautiful choreography of another press/ organiser encounter. Ruth Gledhill, The Times’s religious-affairs correspondent, attempted to get into one of the self-select seminars and was barred, naturally enough. The title of the seminar? “Never say ‘No’ to media”.

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