The Anglican Communion’s Director for Communications Adrian Butcher, sets the record straight following false claims about the Anglican Communion News Service and Gafcon.
Journalists should never become the story – that was a rule I learned at the start of my career in the 1980s. Of course, every rule has its exceptions. I have had the privilege of working with some exceptional international correspondents over the years whose exploits, often in difficult and dangerous places, were rightly highlighted. But I firmly believe my current role as the Anglican Communion Office’s Director for Communications is – or should be – out of the spotlight. That’s why I have not written a blog for the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS). Until now. I am writing because there’s a need to set the record straight on a couple of issues.
It’s reported that more than 1,900 people are attending the Gafcon conference in Jerusalem this week. Whatever your view of Gafcon, this is a significant event and one that ACNS should report on. That’s why we applied for accreditation to attend. This is a simple process: a “yes/no” question, if you will. Applying is not the opening gambit for protracted negotiations with various conditions attached.
I wanted the editor of the Anglican Communion News Service, Gavin Drake, to be there. Gavin is a first-rate, highly professional journalist with a long career in the field. That’s why I appointed him last year. I trust his judgement. And that is why he is in Jerusalem right now. But he is not inside the conference. Why? Because we were not given the accreditation we sought. That is a shame.
In recent weeks I have had the privilege of attending the enthronement of two Primates – in Tanzania and Rwanda – and also being present at the meeting of the Council of Anglican Primates in Africa. What has come across in various conversations and interviews is the genuine sense of warmth and unity among the Primates and also a growing excitement about the Lambeth Conference in 2020. “All my bishops will be there” was a constant refrain.
I hope regular readers of ACNS will have seen the season of videos which captured some of this enthusiasm. It has also been encouraging this week to announce a huge grant for the conference from the Allchurches Trust.
The Primates last met as a group in Canterbury last October. Almost all of them were there. It was, by common consent, a very positive gathering although difficult issues were discussed. There is no need to rehearse them here. But what does need to be addressed is what happened in the margins – because an incorrect narrative has grown up particularly around the press conferences held by us and by Gafcon.
I ran the media operation at the Primates’ Meeting. Not an official from elsewhere in the Communion, as was suggested by some afterwards. Media accreditation was organised in advance but we made it clear places would be open only to bona fide members of the press. Two press conferences were organised. We did not give accreditation to press officers from any other Province or Church.
In spite of this, the press spokesman from Gafcon managed to get into the first media conference held on Tuesday 3 October. Only he knows how. We allowed him to stay, unchallenged. He filmed the entire event on his tablet. And so he had an opportunity to ask questions about the Evensong service in the cathedral the previous day at which Presiding Bishop Michael Curry had prayed for those caught up in a mass shooting in Las Vegas. But he said nothing.
We were reciprocating a kindness. Earlier that day Gafcon had allowed Gavin Drake to attend a press conference they had called. We would have applied for accreditation – but there was nothing about it on their website. None of the other reporters present had applied either.
Now, fast forward a little to the end of the week. Press conference number two was on Friday 6 October. The cathedral precinct was locked down by security officials because of a separate event in the cathedral. Access to the precinct and therefore the press conference was restricted to those with accreditation. That is why only accredited members of the media were allowed in.
One of the issues at the heart of all this is how we reported on the service where PB Michael Curry spoke and our reporting of the Gafcon press conference the following day. Let me make something clear: I stand by Gavin’s reports. It is interesting to note that other journalists present at the Gafcon press conference do not dispute his account of it either.
I am not interested in courting controversy or making outlandish claims. Nor will I engage in running disputes. But I will defend my team and their work when it is wrongly called into question.