But that's not what I said…

without comments

The row that exploded yesterday about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on the US and the Iraq war provides an appropriate backdrop to tomorrow evening’s Media Standards Trust / Reuters Institute debate.

Following an interview he gave to a Muslim magazine the Archbishop found himself splashed across a number of Sunday papers. ‘US is ‘worst’ imperialist: archbishop’ The Sunday Times headline read. ‘Archbishop attacks US over invasion of Iraq’, was the more restrained (and more accurate) title of The Sunday Telegraph’s article. But it was The Sunday Times piece that caught the public’s attention –attracting over 400 comments.

A day later and the commentariat had taken over. In The Daily Mail Peter McKay applauded the Archbishop for ‘Standing up to Uncle Sam’, and in The Sun Trevor Kavanagh said the church leader had ‘excelled himself… by denouncing America as a worse imperial power than Britain in its heyday’.

Yet Rowan Williams did not call the US the ‘worst imperialist’. He critiqued US policy in Iraq, as he has on previous occasions, and he said that American attempts to accumulate influence and control were ‘not working’. But these were similar to comments he has made in the past, and were subsidiary to the main purpose of the interview which was to foster dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

By an unfortunate irony, he also told Sarah Joseph – his interviewer, that “a mutual covenant of religious peoples” could address a media world “very happy with the stereotypes of the other”. That quote didn’t make it into the coverage.

Does it matter that his comments were used in this way? Was it just a case of the press looking for ‘impact’ with its audience? How should the Archbishop respond?

Tim Livesey, head of public affairs at Lambeth Palace, will be one of those discussing how the media and public life interact and what impact it is having at the Media Standards Trust / Reuters Institute debate tomorrow.

With Livesey will be General Sir Rupert Smith (discussing the impact of the media on modern conflict), Lord Michael Jay (talking about the effect of the media on the civil service) and Sue Stapely (describing what happens when a member of the public suddenly gets caught in the media spotlight).

The debate will be held at the Foreign Press Association on Carlton House Terrace from 6.30-8pm. Space is very limited so if you would like to come please do email me at martin.moore@mediastandardstrust.org.

Written by Martin Moore

November 27th, 2007 at 3:34 pm

Leave a Reply