During the last couple of weeks the media focus in London has been on the handling by St Paul’s Cathedral in particular and the Church of England in general of the Occupy camp. Three questions were asked repeatedly by journalists, for whom this story must have presented itself with bells and ribbons attached:
1. Why isn’t the Archbishop of Canterbury saying anything?
2. Shouldn’t the focus be on the bankers and the real object of the protestors’ ire (and not on the cathedral’s management of the situation)?
3. Why aren’t other bishops speaking out?
Now the Archbishop of Canterbury has contributed specifically to the current situation. And the church has turned the debate to the real object of the protestors’ ire. And other bishops are speaking out about the issues raised.
So, what am I being asked in the media now?
1. Is it the place of the Archbishop of Canterbury to intrude in questions of politics and finance?
2. How many marks out of ten would I give to the handling by St Paul’s of the situation on their doorstep?
3. Shouldn’t bishops be attending to what is going on in their own diocese?
Now, call me naive, but isn’t that a bit odd?
OK, it’s a bit of a game for the media: how to find new angles on a story that is in danger of becoming a bit boring. That’s fine and I fully understand it. But, let’s not pretend it isn’t what happens. (And, for the record, I think some of the media reporting of and comment on this stuff has been excellent and very important.)
The other interesting element from a media point of view is the immediacy of the hungry 24 hour media beast – which requires feeding on demand. Memory of previous meals disappears. The fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury hit the headlines just a few months ago with his New Statesman editorial is simply fogotten – he has to speak now. The fact that the Government lambasted him for suggesting that there might potentially be unrest because of the lack of attention being paid to reform of the financial world is simply forgotten. The fact that many bishops and other commentators have been raising these questions for years and have been either ignored or called ‘sensationalist’ simply doesn’t hit the radar. Is this not just a little bit ironic?
If I were a journalist, I would be trawling through the last couple of years of the Archbishop’s speeches and writings and ask if he was being clever, prophetic or just wild. I would then go to the Church of England’s ethical investment material and poke around some of its (probably by now) decade-long concerns about excessive remuneration in the boardroom. There I might even discover in the annual reports of the main investing bodies (Church Commissioners, Pensions and CCLA) an analysis of voting against excessive pay, which (I am told) is consistently the most frequent issue to do with corporate governance. In the last 12 months the EIAG has written to all top 350 UK companies who break the Church’s EIAG framework, explaining in detail why they will vote as they do (in some marginal cases they abstain, rather that vote with management). When they meet with companies as part of their active engagement programme with UK Boards, remuneration is often one of the topics on the agenda.
Even the Pensions Board annual report said:
In our proxy voting the main issue on which the Board did not back management remained executive remuneration. The EIAG and the Board share a deep concern about excessive increases in recent years in the amounts payable under variable remuneration schemes – both annual bonuses and longer term incentive plans – and will be considering in 2011 how to step up engagement with business on this.
If I dug a little deeper into the St Paul’s Institute I might even discover that it has been fostering dialogue between the City and Church for several years – that is, taking a proactive lead in raising and debating the matters of serious concern now. In fact, (and I only learned this the other day), only days before the current events began outside St Paul’s the Chair of EIAG was there at the cathedral launching his new book – an examination of the causes of the Credit Crisis and subsequent Western world recession. (Not that I have read it…)
None of this takes away from the serious questions raised about the church’s handling of the St Paul’s situation – and it isn’t an attempt to shift the spotlight onto the media… except to suggest that some fruitful areas of exploration have not been spotted and that we should also be canny about the reporting of the story itself as it develops.
Has anyone asked the Archbishop of Canterbury yet why he wasn’t listened to when he predicted exactly what is happening now?
I hope the media keep pushing us on all fronts.