Talk about hypocrisy!
The Council of Institutional Investors, which demands increasing transparency and accountability from corporations, has banned the press from all sessions at its semiannual conference late this month.
Clearly it can't brook openness, transparency and accountability of its own operations.
At its fall meeting in Beverly Hills, Calif., the CII will feature, among others, representatives of scandal-tinged corporations that have destroyed billions of dollars in shareholder value in the past few years.
The CII members will hear from executives trying to restore investor confidence in the integrity of their management and boards. Among those who will speak at the meeting are Eric M. Pillmore, senior vice president-corporate governance, Tyco International Ltd., and Stephen F. Cooper, interim CEO Enron Corp. and also CEO at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc.
But the CII doesn't want the media to hear those talks and any discussion that might ensue. Unlike previous semiannual conferences, all sessions of the CII conference will be closed to the news media. Even talks by Jack Ehnes, executive director, California State Teachers' Retirement System, and CII chairman, and Cynthia Richson, corporate governance officer, Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, will be off limits to the media.
But the media will be a topic of discussion at the conference — "The role of the press and a look back at Enron". At least one journalist, Bethany McLean, co-author of a recent book about Enron's scandal, will speak.
Ann Yerger, CII executive director, said, "We had requests from a number of invited speakers that they would feel more comfortable without the press." Closing the conference to the media "was something we had to do to get some of the speakers to commit," she said, declining to name them. But she said when the other speakers were informed, they were glad for the prohibition.
"Given the topics and speakers, we thought it would make for a more open dialogue between directors (and other speakers) and members," Ms. Yerger said. "We needed to do what we needed to do to get the speakers."
The CII is a powerful group, representing one of the largest sums of investment capital in the world. Yet it caved in to the request of a few people who should have the guts to say publicly what they say to the CII members attending the conference.
Ms. Yerger said the CII staff made the decision. Was the board involved in the decision or confirming the ban? "I'm pretty sure they were told," she said. "But it wasn't a board decision." Mr. Ehnes didn't respond to a request for comment. Some other speakers who were contacted would not return calls or comment.
CII's agenda should include promoting public understanding of investment issues. After all, the CII is funded largely by public money from public fund members and by shareholder money from corporate memberships.
The CII ban won't necessarily bar reporting on the sessions; any attendee will be free to compose his or her own report to disseminate for internal office use or to clients and anyone else, even the media. Ms. Yerger said the media may attend receptions, but not any sessions.
But it's a relief to know: "Consistent with the council's commitment to transparency, staff will be pleased to answer press inquiries after the close of each day," according to a CII statement. "However, the meeting sessions are closed to media."
CII is practicing doublethink, the willingness to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time — demanding transparency yet banning transparency — and finding it perfectly acceptable.