The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee has voted to update its media policy, prompted by the proliferation and ease of use of social media.
In addition to news media, the policy now encompasses any individuals in attendance at EC meetings, including Executive Committee members themselves.
The new policy received a unanimous vote Sept. 20 during the EC's two-day meeting in Nashville.
While meetings of the full Executive Committee are open to the public and individuals' statements typically are on the record, its standing committees and workgroups have been held on "background rules" for more than 50 years, stipulating "(1) No direct quotation of any matter. (2) No implied or direct attribution to any person."
The updated policy notes: "This applies not only to members of traditional media, but to anyone who uses social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook Live, Periscope, and all other technologies as they emerge."
The policy explains, "It is to be understood that Committee and Workgroup discussions and recommendations are tentative and subject to the action of the full Executive Committee. These [committee and workgroup] meetings are open to the media, however, to provide the necessary background for accurate, complete, and well-balanced reporting of the sessions of the full Executive Committee."
Page, in comments about the media policy, said, "There's a reason why we have these rules so that people can speak freely, openly, and sometimes it's important that they do so without attribution."
The policy retains key elements from prior media guidelines, such as having "the right and responsibility to conduct executive sessions in unusual circumstances, such as the consideration of certain delicate personality and personnel matters which could not be handled wisely in open session without unnecessarily embarrassing individuals or disclosing privileged information."
"The staff and members of the Executive Committee will provide every assistance possible to members of the media to enable them to do accurate, complete, and well-balanced reporting," the policy states. "This open policy of full cooperation with news media representatives is a recognition by the Executive Committee of its responsibility to keep Southern Baptists fully informed about the work they sponsor and support through the Southern Baptist Convention and its entities."
Related to media policies, the Executive Committee responded to a motion referred to all SBC entities from the annual meeting in St. Louis in June by Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Tennessee Baptist newsjournal Baptist and Reflector. Wilkey moved to "ask trustees of all SBC entities to consider examining their media policies and, if they do not have clearly defined guidelines, to consider establishing a policy that trustee meetings, including committee meetings, be open to news media." Wilkey's motion also asked SBC entity trustees to report to the 2017 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix "if such a media policy is in place or is in the process of being developed."
The Executive Committee, in its response to be reported to messengers, stated that it "regularly reviews its media policy and is satisfied it has clearly defined guidelines with respect to open meetings, background rules, and executive sessions."
To read the policy, click here.
Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press (bpnews.net), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.