* Geneva-based ENI had won journalism awards
* Agency angered world churches body with robust reports
By Robert Evans
GENEVA, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Ecumenical News International, an award-winning agency reporting on religion and based at the World Council of Churches (WCC), has been temporarily closed and had its two top editors removed, one of them said on Monday.
The decision, taken at a meeting of its executive committee last week, comes after the Geneva-based WCC cut the agency’s funding and its former head criticised its coverage.
The suspension and leadership changes led to the resignation of the ENI president and its treasurer, both senior figures in Scandinavian Protestant churches, a report by the agency said.
WCC officials said the agency was not being closed but would resume some time in 2011 with one part-time editor.
“We are being told to vacate our offices by December 22,” said the chief editor, South African journalist Peter Kenny, who with British managing editor Stephen Brown had built ENI into a respected information source over the last 10 years.
“Our contracts are terminated as of the end of the year. My concern is that these changes might bring into question the independence of ENI news,” he told Reuters.
Earlier this year the WCC, which has been ENI’s main funder and in whose headquarters the agency was based, said it was reducing its financial support for 2011 by over 50 percent.
The WCC is an umbrella body linking Protestant and Orthodox churches around the globe. An acting spokesman for the organisation told Reuters on Monday that the funding decision was “part of a broad redeployment of WCC resources” and had been a “key element in decisions related to the re-shaping of ENI.”
The cash cut came in the wake of complaints by the WCC’s former Kenyan general secretary Samuel Kobia of “inaccuracy” and “sensationalism” in coverage of the body by ENI — which had run reports from an authoritative German religious news service that he had falsely claimed an academic degree.
WCC sources said at the time that the affair effectively blocked Kobia from seeking a second four-year term.
ENI, which ran a network of some 50 correspondents around the globe, had also angered some WCC officials by revealing the list of candidates to replace Kobia in advance of a meeting of the body’s central committee in 2009.
His elected successor, Norwegian Lutheran Olav Fykse Tveit, is on holiday and was not available for comment on Monday.
In May, just after the cut was announced, ENI won an award of excellence and another for “editorial courage” in its reporting on the WCC from the U.S. Associated Church Press, which links religious journalists and news services.
Apart from the WCC, the ENI executive committee includes the Lutheran World Federation, the European Conference of Churches and the World Communion of Reformed Churches.
The ENI president who resigned after the committee decision last week was Anders Gadegaard, Dean of Copenhagen’s Lutheran cathedral. He said trying to reshape the agency without the staff who had built it up was a waste of investment. (Editing by Mark Trevelyan)