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The Independent asks why report when you can reprint PR?: Get Religion, December 19, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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How do you respond to a smear? If you are the Independent you respond with a smear of your own, it seems.

The London-based daily has picked up a story from the web and without doing any investigation of its own, has concluded that what it reads on the internet is true. One would hope that they would know better than that. Or, might this be a British example of the Dan Rather school of journalism — a story that is so good that even though it is false,  it should be true.

The left leaning newspaper published an article this week entitled “UK evangelist says Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’”. (Tom Daley is a British sportsman who recently announced he was bi-sexual.) Reporters are seldom responsible for the headlines placed atop their stories, but this title does set the tone for the journalistic errors that follow.

An evangelist is different from an evangelical.  The subject of this story, Andrea Minichiello Williams, is an attorney by trade — not a cleric or lay preacher — and the founder of Christian Concern, a conservative Christian evangelical advocacy group. Confusing evangelist and evangelical is a common error, but it presages the troubles that are to come.

The lede states:

The head of a British evangelical Christian lobby group has angered gay rights campaigners by urging Jamaica to keep same-sex intercourse illegal and reportedly suggesting  that Tom Daley is in a relationship with a man because his father died. To the dismay of mainstream church leaders Andrea Minichiello Williams, the founder of Christian Concern, spoke at conference in Jamaica to lobby against the repeal of the Caribbean island’s controversial law banning gay sex.

Let us unpack this. Mrs. Williams, is the head of evangelical group (not an evangelist), who “apparently” urged Jamaicans not to change their country’s sodomy laws.  Her words have led to “dismay”, not in Jamaica, but among gay activists — no surprise there — and “mainstream church leaders”, e.g., more than one and not just activists on the margins.  We need to wait and see who these “mainstream” leaders are, but cognoscenti of Anglican affairs will see an allusion here. One of the chief conservative evangelical lobbying groups is “Anglican Mainstream.” Is the Independent being clever? Are they suggesting a rift within the conservative wing of the church?

The editorial voice of this article is that it is somehow beyond the pale to oppose the reform of sodomy laws. While this may be the received wisdom in the offices of the Independent, the world does not march to that tune. From this month’s ruling by the Indian Supreme Court that there is no constitutional right to gay sex, to Judge Antonin Scalia’s dissents in Bowers v Hardwick and Lawrence v Texas, there is an intellectually respectable body of opinion that disagrees with the innovations endorsed by the Independent.

This is not to say the Independent must raise the objections to its thinking each time it goes off on this issue, but a degree of self-awareness on the part of the newspaper would prevent it from making the silly errors found in this story.

After laying out the controversy, the article then goes on to quote Mrs. Williams. But the quotes are followed by the caveat that they have been taken from BuzzFeed. They are further hedged about with phrases such as “reportedly illustrated” and “she is said to have added …”.

The Independent provides a hyperlink to the BuzzFeed story, but cites no other sources. It does include a quote from Christian Concern saying Mrs. Williams was “unavailable due to a private matter.”

The story then moves to commentary and provides a “mainstream” critic, the Bishop of Chichester, the Rt. Rev. Martin Warner. Perhaps bishops count as multiple sources? What the Independent implied the bishop said is at odds, however, with the statement released by the bishop. It wrote:

Yesterday Martin Warner, the Bishop of Chichester, where Mrs Williams was elected to the General Synod in 2011, condemned the comments.

He told the Independent that they had “no sanction in the Church of England” and that they “should be rejected as offensive and unacceptable”.

Bishop Warner did not condemn Mrs. Williams or her comments — he condemned incitement to homophobia. He said:

The comments by Andrea Minichiello Williams about the decriminalisation of same sex intercourse in Jamaica have no sanction in the Church of England or the diocese of Chichester.  Insofar as such comments incite homophobia, they should be rejected as offensive and unacceptable.

The Christian Church is widely perceived as homophobic and intolerant of those for whom same sex attraction is the foundation of their emotional lives.  It is urgent, therefore, that Christians find legitimate ways to affirm and demonstrate the conviction that the glory of God is innate in every human being, and the mercy of God embraces each of us indiscriminately.

Note the use of the word “insofar” — The Independent is shading the bishop’s words here. It has either misconstrued what was said, or cherry picked phrases  from the statement to support its editorial voice.

We see this shading of facts in the use of comments. Quotes condemning what the Independent concedes are alleged statements made by Mrs. Williams are offered, but there is no voice offered in support for retaining Jamaica’s sodomy laws. As most of the article is taken from the press release of a gay lobbying group the lack of balance is understandable — why do the hard work of reporting when someone else hands you a press release you can reprint?

Now to forestall comments from the perpetually outraged, this post is not about the rights or wrongs of Jamaican sodomy laws. It is about journalism. And as journalism this article stinks. What we have is a re-written press release passed off as original reporting. The Independent will not stand behind the quotes it says might have been said by Mrs. Williams, but is happy to reprint the comments attacking her.

And when a quote is not sufficiently rigorous for its tastes, it improves it by omitting key phrases that put the words in their context. This story is an embarrassment to the craft of journalism.

N.b., should you be of a mind to debate the issues or go deeper into this story, blogger Peter Ould has done the investigative reporting that the Independent could not be bother to do.

First printed in Get Religion.

Dr. Sentamu starts Jamaican tour: The Church of England Newspaper, January 26, 2012 February 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of the West Indies.
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Dr. Sentamu greeted in Montego Bay by the Minister of State for Tourism Damian Crawford

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of York helped kick off celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence this week, preaching at an ecumenical service in Montego Bay on 22 January 2012.

Dr. John Sentamu and his wife will tour Jamaica from 21-31 January as a guest of the island’s Tourist Board and the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and is scheduled to meet with clergy, government leaders and citizens of the Caribbean island nation.

In his sermon last Sunday at St James Parish Church in Montego Bay, Dr. Sentamu urged Jamaicans to tear down the barriers of class and race that divided them.

“The problem of barriers is by no means confined to the ancient world, but there is no room for the fences which we erect and use to separate. Today, there are all sorts of zigzags and crisscrossing separating fences. There is one that includes people as well as colour, culture, ethnicity, gender, public status and greed. You should not allow these elements to dominate your nation when you have Jesus Christ as your foundation.”

“You must ensure that you never make creeds to divide and never set up barriers that serve to keep others from enjoying the beauty and wealth of what God has ordained for everyone,” the archbishop said.

The archbishop is scheduled to preach next Sunday at a special service at the Cathedral in Spanish Town.

He argued that while peace treaties and agreements have been signed all over the world, legal documents, by themselves, could not attain peace and harmony in a nation without expressions by the human element.

In a statement released before his departure for the Caribbean, the UK Director of the Jamaica Tourist Board, Elizabeth Fox noted that “Jamaicans are deeply religious people and in fact, Jamaica has more churches per square mile than any other country in the world. We hope therefore that religious groups and Jamaican Diaspora in the UK will see this as an opportunity to go back and visit during the Archbishop’s visit.”

Dr Sentamu to lead Jamaica independence celebrations: The Church of England Newspaper, December 9, 2011 p 5. December 12, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of York, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu has been asked by the Government of Jamaica to kick off a year of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of independence for the West Indian country.

Dr Sentamu is scheduled to visit the island from 21 – 31 January 2012, the Jamaican tourist board reports, and will be a guest of the government and the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

The Archbishop led celebrations in 2007 marking the anniversary of the end of slavery and was warmly received across Jamaica. The intervening years have not been kind to the island nation, however, which has seen a continued rise in violent crime and political corruption.

A poll released last July reported that 50 years after independence, 60 per cent of Jamaicans said they would be better off having remained a British colony. Most Jamaicans believe they would be better off if they were still ruled by Britain, a poll shows.

Only 17 per cent of those surveyed said they would be worse off if they had remained a colony. In an editorial printed under the headline “Give Us The Queen!”, the Daily Gleaner said most Jamaicans longed for the stability of colonial rule and had become “disillusioned” by the country’s corrupt political culture and high crime.

VisitJamaica.com, a website for the state tourist board reports Dr Sentamu will lead an ecumenical independence service in Montego Bay, an Anglican service at Spanish Town Cathedral, and the National Jamaica 50 Ecumenical Service at Emancipation Park in Kingston.

‘Hands off church land’ diocese tells govt: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 2, 2011 September 6, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of the West Indies.
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Nuttall Memorial Hospital

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Diocese of Jamaica has denounced state plans to amend the country’s eminent domain laws to allow the government to confiscate private property for commercial redevelopment.

On 19 August the Suffragan Bishop of Montego Bay, the Rt Rev Howard Gregory released a statement on behalf of the Diocese defending the private property rights of citizens in the face of government encroachment. His remarks followed comments made by the head of the state’s Urban Development Corporation (UDC), Ms Joy Douglas, that the UDC was interested in redeveloping the site of the church-owned Nuttall Memorial Hospital in Kingston for commercial uses.

“The right of individuals and institutions to own property is guaranteed by the Constitution” of Jamaica, the Bishop said, and “is protected against any form of compulsory acquisition without certain conditions being satisfied.

“Landownership has been of far more than symbolic value to our people in the history of this country, and for the Government of our nation, the largest landowner, to be proposing changing the laws which have guaranteed the right of citizens and institutions, in order to confiscate property, supposedly for the purpose of redevelopment, is not only unacceptable but in violation of our Constitution,” the Bishop said.

The Diocese was also perturbed by Ms Douglas’ statements that the UDC did not have the funds in hand to pay for land it wanted to acquire. Government “land grabbing” paid for by “some piece of paper which a future generation may be able to cash” was “unacceptable” Bishop Gregory said.

“The direction in which these things are pointing marks a major departure from our current practise and understanding of the rights of citizens, and must not be allowed to proceed without serious debate and engagement by the people of this nation,” the Bishop said.

The UDC responded that government had a “core charge” to “see to the development and redevelopment of urban areas and to address conditions of urban blight.”

However, in the case of the Nuttall Memorial Hospital grounds the Diocese’s concerns were misplaced. The UDC “has not at this time formulated any concept with respect to any specific use of that area in emerging development plans.”