Church sells its Sky shares over porn channel The Church of England sells its Sky shares

Question of ethics: Playboy falls foul of policy
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The Independent Online
The Church of England yesterday sold all its shares in BSkyB, worth a total of pounds 3.6m as a response to the launch of the soft porn Playboy Channel on the satellite network.

Speaking on London's Premier Radio, the Church Commission's stock exchange investment manager, Tony Hardy, said: "We have held a review and have reached a decision that it would be appropriate to sell our holding in BSkyB.

"We wish to give a clear signal that the commissioners do not wish to benefit from firms directly marketing pornography."

However, the Church Commissioners, who manage most of the Church of England's assets, still hold shares in Reed-Elsevier, the media group which owns IPC, publishers of Loaded magazine, whose latest issue contains a controversial spoof on alleged Hindu miracles.

The decision by the commissioners, who had pounds 2m worth of shares in BSkyB out of stock market investments worth about pounds 1bn, and the Church's Central Board of Finance, which had a further pounds 1.6m invested in the company, follows the announcement that the Methodist central authorities had sold their shares in the enterprise three weeks ago.

The new channel offers subscribers programmes such as The Secrets of Making Love and 101 Ways to Excite Your Lover. BSkyB, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, has a 40 per cent stake in the channel.

The decision represents an extension of the previous policy on ethical investment into uncharted areas, and reflects the hugely increased sensitivity of the Church Commissioners to church-going opinion since they lost pounds 800m in property speculation during the late 1980s.

Both the Anglican and Methodist churches have ethical investment policies which prohibit them from investing in companies whose main business is in the arms trade, gambling, tobacco, alcohol, or newspapers. A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church said: "There isn't a central investment policy. Each diocese makes its own investment decisions."

The Church Commissioners' policy, however clear-cut in principle, tends to blur around the edges. They have invested pounds 9m in GEC, which in turn owns VSEL, which makes Trident submarines. A spokesman said yesterday that the key criterion was whether a company's main business lay in objectionable areas.

Reed-Elsevier is a case in point. The latest issue of Loaded contains a picture of a Hindu deity apparently drinking from a beer can "after three days in the office", and the whole magazine is devoted to the laddish lifestyle.

"I don't think we currently monitor the contents of Loaded," said a spokesman for the commissioners. "Owning Loaded is not quite like having a service whose sole purpose is to broadcast erotic material."

In 1991, the commissioners fought off a legal challenge from clergy headed by the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Richard Harries, who wanted a tighter ethical investment policy. They maintained then that theirlegal duty was to maximise profits. This was before their propertylosses emerged.

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