WCC is the main funder of ENI, which was created as an independent news agency in 1994 by a partnership of the WCC, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European
Churches. All four are based at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, as is ENI.
“I hear many complaints about ENI,” said William Ingram of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, during a time when the central committee was receiving responses to the report of WCC General Secretary Samuel Kobia, which had been given at the start of the August 26 to September 2 meeting. “Many ENI stories are profoundly inaccurate . and give a wholly inadequate and distorted perspective of the WCC,” Ingram asserted. He cited no specific examples.
“I have never heard this criticism before,” replied Anders Gadegaard of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, who is also president of the ENI executive committee, on which he represents the WCC. “If it is a general feeling, I am very interested in hearing about it so I can take it up with the [ENI] executive committee.”
Kobia, who steps down as general secretary at the end of the year, said there have been “many concerns about how ENI covers the WCC over the years, but it has become much worse over the last 18 months.”
In February 2008, at the time of the last central committee meeting, ENI reported, in a story that was originally broken by the German news agency epd, that Kobia had received a doctorate from an unaccredited university in the United States. At that meeting, Kobia said that for “personal reasons” he did not wish to seek a second term as WCC general secretary.
His successor, Olav Fykse Tveit of the Church of Norway, was elected on August 27. “ENI does not heed WCC concerns about both inaccuracies and the sensationalizing of stories they cover, most recently the coverage of the search committee process,” said Kobia. He was referring to an ENI news story that reported a list of possible names on a short list for the post of Kobia’s successor. The search committee, in accordance with its procedures, had not disclosed the names.
Kobia told the central committee that concerns about the ENI report expressed by WCC officers had been met with “casual dismissal by the editor-in-chief” of ENI, Peter Kenny.
John Thomas, a central committee member and president of the United Church of Christ in the United States, told governing body members, however, “We are well-served by an independent media that analyses and assesses our life, even when it makes us uncomfortable.” He said ENI is good for the
WCC’s credibility because “it holds us accountable rather than serving merely as a mouthpiece. We need to take seriously these critiques of us, even as we seek accuracy and objectivity.”
Speaking following the central committee discussion, ENI editor-in-chief Kenny said that after the news agency had published the names of prospective candidates for the top post at the WCC, which he said were clearly no longer confidential, he had been summoned to a meeting with WCC officers. Present were the WCC’s moderator, two vice moderators, Kobia as well as the WCC’s communication director.
Kenny said, “I am surprised at the general secretary’s use of the term ‘casual dismissal’ of WCC officers, since I met the officers for one hour in which I listened carefully to their concerns, and in which we discussed the issues of transparency and secrecy in the selection process of an international organization like the World Council of Churches.”
by Jerry L. Van Marter
coordinator of Presbyterian News Service, writing for ENI
during the WCC central committee meeting.