Advice for clergy and church officers
Information for clergy and church officers for when a reporter calls:
Diocesan secretary the Rev Wendy Kennedy recently wrote to clergy with the following advice:
I am writing to remind you of our guidelines on commenting in the media as recent incidents have highlighted the unfortunate repercussions that unguarded comment can create.
Firstly, when there is a controversial matter – a police investigation, a complaint by a parishioner, or a church development that some in your community oppose – please contact our communications director or 023 9289 9673. He can advise whether it is better not to comment, or to put together a statement in response that can’t be misquoted. If Neil is not available, please contact your archdeacon.
You may be contacted about theological issues or more general issues relating to our diocese or the national Church. The diversity of views within the Church is both its greatest strength and also its biggest weakness. It’s good to be part of a Church where we can agree on fundamentals, but accept that others may have different ways of worshipping or theological standpoints, each of which is valid. For many of us, that may be why we’re Anglican!
However, because it is conflict that fuels media stories, if you are invited to comment on an issue by the media, pause and think first. It is good to ask: is it more important for me to share my views with the wider community, or would it better for me to decline to comment on something that may affect others within our diocesan community, or in the wider Church? Is the reporter asking for comment from clergy on either side of an issue and then presenting them as bickering opponents, when in reality they agree with each other about most things? It won’t always be wrong to comment in such situations, but the public perception is that the Church is irrevocably divided over some issues. It needs little further encouragement.
Of course, there will be many cases in which we want to use the media proactively – parish events and activities that you would like to promote and issues within your community that require local comment. You may already issue press releases or contact local reporters about these matters, and we would encourage you to do so. Our communications adviser Neil Pugmire (023 9289 9673 or email) can provide advice for you about how best to do that.
Finally, some tips about what to do if you get an unexpected call from a reporter:
- find out what they already know, and what they need to know, and offer to ring them back in 5 minutes. This gives you time to think, and write out what you want to say.
- give information in a factual way, and a firm and friendly manner. If they ask for your views, read out the sentence you have prepared and say no more.
- if you don’t know, offer to find out. Don’t waffle, as you may still be quoted.
- ask the reporter to read back what they have written down as a quote from you. If necessary, remind them of the whole sentence – if a reporter only uses half a sentence, they won’t reflect the totality of your views.
- be positive – mere denials or “no comments” suggests you have something to hide. This could be an opportunity to kill false rumours. Mistakes multiply when people refuse to talk, so be helpful and the reporter will usually respond in the same way.
- if a call relates to an active police matter, say so and close the call politely with ‘no comment to make’. Contact the communications adviser.
- never go “off the record”. It just isn’t worth it or safe. This is not to misjudge the reporter, rather if something is worth saying, be honest and say it!
- if an issue is controversial, or you would simply prefer not to speak to the reporter, let them know that you will be contacting the diocesan communications adviser. If he is away, please contact your archdeacon.
- please tell the communications adviser/archdeacon the full story, so that you can work out between you what would be appropriate to say to the reporter. It may be that you jointly draft a statement that can be emailed – which provides less opportunity for misquoting.
You can also enrol on one of the national Church’s courses on various aspects of media liaison. Click here for details.