Former Guardian journalist Reverend Giles Fraser has hit out at the Church Times for claiming in a story that he did not pay for a trip he and several other church leaders had taken to Syria.
The article, published on 4 May, was headlined: “Syria needs journalism, not press jollies” and written by columnist Andrew Brown.
In the article Brown described Fraser’s visit as “The great Fraser freebie to Syria”.
Fraser objected to the article on the basis that he had funded the trip himself after being invited to the country by the Syrian Orthodox Church.
In a letter to the Church Times, Fraser said: “Being on the receiving end of a sermon about ‘journalistic principles’ from Andrew Brown is quite something, especially when he fails to meet those basic principles himself: namely, a desire to establish some simple facts.”
Fraser added: “Andrew Brown speaks piously of the need for ‘basic reporting skills’. Yet he demonstrates none of them himself. That is something of a problem in a column all about the press”
A delegation which included Fraser, Rev’d Andrew Ashdown and former Bishop of Exeter Michael Langrish visited Syria between the 14 and 15 April, during which time the US, UK and French launched retaliatory airstrikes against the Assad regime following a chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Douma.
The visit was criticised by several news outlet, including the Mail and the Times, which said: “Fraser has delivered a massive propaganda coup to an evil regime.”
In his letter to the Church Times Fraser said: “I do not for one moment regret going… it is better to try and understand what is going on in Syria, amid the complexities of Syria, rather than make assumptions behind the safety of a computer screen in England.”
Editor of the Church Times, Paul Handley, responded to Fraser in his editorial.
He acknowledged that there had been “a significant error” in the paper’s column, adding: “Canon Giles Fraser’s trip to Syria was paid for by him personally, and not funded by the Syrian government as suggested in the column.
“We are happy to make this clear and apologise for the error.”
The Church Times is not regulated by an external press regulator.
Picture: Reuters/Peter Nicholls