The recent ‘hackgate’ scandal brought a media tycoon to his knees, and made a society ask, who can we trust? Martin Saunders considers how we as a Church can bring Jesus to a world that has lost faith in everything... It was supposed to be silly season. With Parliament in recess, all we were really expecting from news editors was a series of stories about how hot/cold/rainy/muggy it was compared to last year, and maybe a few ‘chaos on the roads’ front pages as schools broke up and everyone made a dash for Heathrow. How wrong we were. When it was revealed that The News of the World had hacked the voicemail of Milly Dowler, society found a moral baseline it could universally agree on. Hacking the phones of criminals was one thing, the public cried, doing the same to those of murdered schoolgirls was quite another. Where public opinion led, advertisers followed, and within days, The News of the World – formerly the UK’s most-read newspaper – was shut down. The casualties didn’t end there. Major figures in the police force, including Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, left their jobs, whistleblower Sean Hoare was found dead, Rupert Murdoch’s trusted lieutenant Rebekah Brooks fell on her sword. As the list of people who suspected they had been hacked grew, so too did the list of those suspected guilty of enabling it to take place. Eventually, inevitably, it went right to the top. Who can we trust? The term ‘Media Tycoon’ is too cheap for Rupert Murdoch. His is an empire to make ancient Rome wince. The man has even had a Bond villain based on him. Yet in July, we watched agog as he was hauled before a panel of British MPs. Looking every one of his 80 years, he fumbled and paused (some claim, very deliberately) as politicians from across the party divides cross-examined him. At times, it felt less like the culture select committee, and more like the trial of a serial killer. And then, in an even more peculiar turn, the defining image of ‘hackgate’ became the most powerful man in the media with a custard pie dripping down his face. A picture not only of how the mighty were fallen, but also of how the public’s trust in Murdoch’s empire had utterly disintegrated. It didn’t stop there. A Channel 4 Dispatches documentary at the end of the month revealed compelling evidence that successive Prime Ministers had allowed Murdoch the sort of influence over policy that makes a mockery of the democratic process, and again leaves the public’s collective head spinning with questions. The programme confirmed the worse cynic’s fears. It documented a pre-Prime Ministerial Tony Blair’s trip to a News Corp conference on the other side of the globe, and how News International switched its titles to Labour just days later. It detailed Murdoch’s frequent back-door appearances at 10 Downing Street, and unreported meetings at Chequers. It provided compelling evidence that many of the major policy decisions over the last 20 years – not least the Allied invasion of Iraq – were significantly influenced by Murdoch and his organisation. And while it has been hard not to enjoy seeing some of these revelations come to light, it’s now time to take a step back and ask the same question that is on the lips of an entire society. Who now can we trust? In the last, extraordinary decade, every institutional basis for public trust has been shaken and damaged. The attack on the Twin Towers, and closer to home the 7/7 bombings, caused our air of Western invincibility to evaporate; the actions of fundamentalists and abusers have degraded organised religion and played into the hands of answerless atheists. Even the press, which was once the medium through which institutional Britain was critiqued and scrutinised, has become an institution in itself, and a corrupted one at that. The postmodern dream is fully realised; the age of the trusted institution is over. The questions for the Church are many. How do we, as perhaps the most institutionalised organisation of the lot, gain the trust of a disillusioned public? How much of our baggage do we need to leave behind if we’re going to engage with a badly burned culture? How do we bring Jesus to a world that has lost faith in absolutely everything?
Check out Martin's Five moments, here