|Who'd be a press officer?
Sir, As director of communications for the Lambeth Conference, I would like to comment on Ruth Gledhill's article "My Lambeth hell" (The Tablet, 15 August).
I think there is a misunderstanding about what was the purpose of the media centre at Lambeth '98. I assembled more than 70 professional journalists, photographers, writers, editors and telecommunications personnel to enable, first and foremost, communication to our dioceses around the globe on a daily basis. This was accomplished quite well and without any major problems. When it comes to the local, national, and international media, there were no complaints from the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times. We provided a first-rate facility with modem connections, phone points, an air-conditioned, well-fitted-out briefing hall and, on a good day, coffee or tea.
The UK press liaison officer was the Revd Bill Beaver from Church House in London. This arrangement had been in place since planning began many months ago. There were no changes in personnel or tasks assigned just before the conference - none. This was not a small operation. Liz Harries from the Church of Ireland was the person designated to handle interviews and indeed hundreds were processed over the three weeks; we employed seminarians rather than volunteers to help. They ran, walked, biked and drove around the campus for three weeks trying to find bishops to do what a journalist wanted.
The Church of England, as I know from my nine years in this country, has a unique relationship with the media. Most other Anglican provinces, including the United States, do not find every decision made, problem solved, or perceived news items, covered in their "secular" press. Thus some bishops coming to Lambeth were, by their own choice, hesitant to comment to press representatives. This is their right and, I believe, quite understandable. We did offer to help bishops who had stories to tell the press and did not know how to go about it.
As for Ruth Gledhill's "positive, friendly attitude toward the Anglican Church", I hope it can continue. I personally apologised to her after hearing reports that there were some problems with a volunteer priest at the hall. She accepted my apology graciously. Hellish encounters can be the vehicle for redemptive resurrection experiences. May it be so for Ruth Gledhill.
Canon James Rosenthal
Director of Communications