Church wades into hacking row
The Church of England entered the row over phone hacking today with a threat to pull nearly £4 million in investments from News Corporation if it fails to hold “senior managers” to account over the scandal.
The Church’s ethical investment advisory group (EIAG) said it had written to News Corp describing the behaviour of the News of the World as “utterly reprehensible and unethical”.
The closure of the newspaper, while welcome, was not a “sufficient response” to revelations of malpractice at the newspaper, the EIAG said.
EIAG chairman John Reynolds has insisted that the board of News Corp takes “all necessary measures” to instil investor confidence in the ethical and governance standards of News Corp.
“We cannot imagine circumstances in which we would be satisfied with any outcome that does not hold senior executives to account at News Corporation for the gross failures of management at the News of the World,” a statement from the EIAG said.
The Church Commissioners, one of the national investing bodies of the Church of England, holds shares worth £6 million in News Corp.
The Church Commissioners, the Church of England Pensions Board and the CBF Church of England Funds hold assets of more than £8 billion.
Professor Richard Burridge, deputy chairman of the EIAG, insisted that the threat of disinvestment could have an impact in spite of the relatively small amount invested in News Corp.
“If we don’t get a satisfactory answer then disinvestment comes on to the horizon, but you can’t go straight to the nuclear option, you have to engage first,” he told reporters.
He added: “I would love to think that Rupert Murdoch lies in bed at night quaking in fear of the Church of England but I fear that may not be the case."
“Certainly disinvestment is our ultimate sanction if engagement does not work. We have written a letter and we have not had a reply yet.”
The Rev Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford, a vicar in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, and a General Synod member, said: “Senior figures in the Church of England are embarrassed by this ownership.
“I can certainly say that clergy and lay people that know about it are of a mind that we should divest ourselves of this investment or we should be pressing through our ownership for change in the leadership at News Corp.”