Why it was impossible for us to sign declaration

By on November 1, 2004

A handful of readers have written to Anglican Journal about our decision not to cover the recent gathering of Essentials in Ottawa due to the organization’s requirement that participants (including media) sign a declaration of faith that included the phrase “adultery, fornication and homosexual unions are intimacies contrary to God’s design.”

They were also asked to sign a “statement of repudiation and disassociation from the actions of the General Synod” on the matter of same-sex relationships.

(In fact, organizers of the gathering gave mixed messages to interested journalists. They initially stated that the conference was closed to media so that, in the words of one organizer, “anyone can express themselves and can feel safe and so there is editorial control.” Later, they said media who signed the declaration of faith and the other statement would be permitted to attend the conference.)

Readers have asked why it was that Anglican Journal could not find an “orthodox” staff writer to cover the gathering on Essentials’ terms.

The answer is simple: the issue is not about orthodoxy. It never was.

Professional journalists do not publicly endorse the beliefs of a groupthey are supposed to be covering objectively. For that reason, you will not find a Journal reporter wearing a rainbow Integrity sticker at General Synod or signing the petition of a conservative group.Think for a moment how your opinion of the news would change if a television news anchor were to read the news with a Liberal party button on her lapel. If we as journalists compromise our integrity, we damage the trust our readers have in our newspaper. The editorial staff of Anglican Journal takes this responsibility very seriously.

Additionally, it should be noted that no other group in the church — not the house of bishops, the Council of General Synod, Fidelity, Integrity or Anglican Church Women — determines how it is to be covered by the Journal. That is because the Anglican Church of Canada — which is recognized throughout the Anglican Communion as one of the most transparent of all the churches — long ago decided that it is valuable to have a free, independent press.This is a relative rarity, both in the wider Anglican Communion and many other denominations.

The Journal’s editorial independence is perhaps well known in some church circles, but it is often misunderstood. Put simply, it is predicated on the belief that there is value to the church in having a national publication, accessible to the greatest number of constituents possible, that stands back from the church to examine critically what it does and does not do and how it does or does not do it. (Full disclosure: that thought is from Vianney Carriere, the national church’s director of communications and information resources. He made the point when he was the editor of Anglican Journal.)

There is also a practical reason why Anglican Journal remains editorially independent. The Journal receives substantial funding from Heritage Canada, a federal government department which subsidizes mailing costs for Canadian periodicals. Heritage policy is clear that any publication would be rendered ineligible for postal subsidies if it were to be “published directly or indirectly by such groups and organizations as… religious… organizations, and primarily report on the activities of the group or organization, or primarily promote the interests of the group or organization or its members.”

Currently, for instance, Anglican Journal is mailed at an average cost of $0.14 per copy; without the Heritage Canada subsidy, that cost would rise to at least $0.56 — four times the subsidized cost. Total mailing costs each year are more than $300,000; without subsidies, that total would top $1.2 million. So, if Anglican Journal’s independent editorial policy were abandoned, we would lose the postal subsidies that make possible the production and distribution of Anglican Journal and the diocesan newspapers (which are printed and mailed together with the Journal).

From time to time, readers suggest that certain stories should not be covered in the Journal because they show the church in a bad light. Some readers do not expect to read bad news in a church newspaper. Others write to the newspaper asking (and sometimes demanding) that we cease our coverage of issues that they find troubling. But religious journalism and church newspapers should not be held to a different standard than secular media. Ignoring an issue because it causes discomfort or even outrage for some readers is disingenuous.

Our mandate is to cover the Anglican Church of Canada in all of its complexity, from the knitting ministries to the residential school settlement; from the parish fundraising projects to the financial scandals; from the healing programs to the cases of sexual misconduct.

The independent editorial policy is in place to serve you, the reader.

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