I am not a fan of the Sun. I have never bought it and I never will. It partly goes back to Hillsborough and the utterly shameful – and never regretted – treatment of Liverpool fansafter 96 of them died. But, it goes deeper.

I was in Oxford last night and missed the Carling Cup Final – probably just as well, given the nerve-shredding result. However, I also missed the arguments in the Twittersphere about the Archbishop of York’s apparent endorsement of both the Sun and it’s new Sunday edition (which was launched yesterday).

In his article the Archbishop writes: “I know there will be those who will criticise me for writing in a newspaper which will be seen by many as filling the gap left by the News of the World. However I am always one for responding to change positively and embracing new beginnings – seeing the best in all people, especially in adversity.

Lent is not a time for pointing the finger at others. As Alexander Pope said: ‘To err is human, to forgive is divine.’ We should always remember that when we point the finger at other people, there are three other fingers pointing back at us! We should rejoice in new life, turning our back on what has gone before.”

Perfectly reasonable and I don’t question the Archbishop’s motive for writing his article and engaging with the paper in this way. His objection to the treatment of young people in the current market is strong and vital and I applaud it. I could not endorse the paper myself, not because I don’t applaud the attempt to bring jobs for journalists or new life out of the destructive awfulness of the phone-hacking (and related) scandals.

My problem is that people who ask for forgiveness as a way to avoid taking responsibility for their crimes need, for the sake of their own soul, to be ‘worked with’. Simply moving on is not a healthy option when (a) it helps the guilty avoid facing the reality and consequences of their crime, (b) it ignores the ongoing suffering or grievance of the victims of their crime, and (c) it has the potential to be a carefully worked con on the public.

It is important not to forget that News International not only allowed criminal behaviour to continue – with an arrogance that is still barely comprehensible – but also tried every way possible to intimidate and prevent investigation of its malpractices. Not only were the police corrupted and compromised, but also those attempting to get justice and transparency (Tom Watson MP, Nick Davies of the Guardian, etc) were repeatedly and deliberately maligned, subverted, misrepresented and fobbed off.

In other words, the same owners and business leaders who ran a company that sanctioned criminal and deeply unethical behaviour have not changed. Those who sanctioned every means of obstructing truth and justice only played the humility card when they knew they had been found out and had no other option. It is hard to see that there has been any sort of ‘repentance’ other than a fundamentally pragmatic bit of business management.

As always, I might be wrong and be missing something fundamental here. But, all my instincts lead me to take a different view from that of the Archbishop of York on this one.

Paradoxically the same outfit employs journalists at the top of their game. The contrast between the criminality at News International and the massive respect for Marie Colvin, killed last week in Syria, is stark and poignant.

However, the Sun did once get me to write a couple of hundred words about (if I remember rightly) some awful ‘search for a husband’ programme on the telly. They published a picture of my smiling face right next to the naked pneumatic breast of the said model, Jodie Marsh. It made me laugh and found itself pinned on the notice boards of various ‘friends’…

Three stories penetrate the work-ridden last few days.

Yesterday Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor and former political editor of the Sun had the nerve to accuse the Metropolitan Police of wasting time and resources on their investigation of criminality at the heart of News International. He described police tactics as treating suspected journalists like “members of an organised crime gang”. He objected to dawn raids and intrusive searches of journalists’ homes.

Forgive my naïveté, but why does he think the police are doing this at all? Would he or his newspaper have had any patience with police ignoring criminality on an industrial scale in some other area of society? Did he consider the handling of the MPs’ expenses scandal as a waste of time and money – a gross overreaction? Does he really think that investigations into corruption and criminality at the Sun is ‘disproportionate’?

I usually find Trevor Kavanagh interesting, but this has left me staggered. Is he so out of touch that he still doesn’t get the public outrage at this enormous corruption? The irony of his choice of words is that the need for expensive and thorough police investigation arises directly from crime that looks distinctly ‘organised’. Or is it just that it is OK for ordinary mortals to have their lives intruded upon, shredded and dumped – their reputations rubbished and their families disturbed – but somehow wrong for journalists to suffer the same treatment? I am boggled.

Richard Dawkins is at it again – although Giles Fraser rattled him on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning. As Dawkins mocked respondents to his poll who couldn’t name the first gospel, Fraser embarrassed him by exposing his inability to remember the full title of Darwin’s Origin of Species. His latest evangelistic campaign is just silly. In danger of confusing atheism with secularism (they are not the same), he perpetuates the pretence that he occupies neutral space whereas religious people are somewhere up the loaded loony scale. What makes him think that his world view is to be privileged above all others is still unclear. Anyway, his survey proves little – and certainly not what he thinks it proves.

Baroness Warsi has complained to the Pope about rampant and aggressive secularism that is marginalising religion in general and Christianity in particular in Britain today. Not having had time today to read all the reports of this, I remain unclear why she needs to tell the Pope what he already thinks. But, the question is really whether or not she is right. I just hope she doesn’t slip into the language of ‘persecution’.

The most interesting two responses I have seen to Dawkins and Warsi are by Giles Fraser and Julian Baggini. Rational atheist argument is fine and secularist campaigning acceptable. But, where does the mindless aggression come from? Why the irrational evangelism that doesn’t even pretend to be tolerant of any world view that differs from it’s own fundamentalism?

Just got back from a great trip to our link diocese in the USA – Southwestern Virginia – and trying to pick up what has been going on while I was away. Both the BBC and the Guardian websites were re-shaped into US sites while I was over there, so some domestic news seemed to slip by.

So, what strikes me on my return?

1. The Leveson Inquiry continues, but things are getting worse as four more journalists have been arrested – this time not from the defunct News of the World, but from the Sun. I can’t weep for those who have (a) indulged in unethical or criminal activity in the name of ‘the freedom of the press’ or (b) shredded other people’s lives before simply moving on to the next cash-generating scandal. However, I do weep for good journalists who now find themselves tarred with the brush of corruption – even if they now know what it feels like to face a situation of personal injustice that they cannot resolve by themselves… an experience familiar to victims of their tabloid colleagues. Not to forget also that it was excellent investigative journalism (and considerable nerve) that exposed this apparent web of corruption in the first place. A good democracy and a good society need a good, free, intelligent, accountable and ethical press.

2. While we spent nearly four hours on Saturday night with a couple of hundred others in Roanoke packing 176,000 food parcels for Sudanese refugees and displaced people (the remarkable and motivated young people of Southwestern Virginia raised the $35,000 it cost – and did so explicitly in the name of Christ), questions were being raised here about the viability of the new state of Southern Sudan. The challenges are huge, but they extend even more precariously in the north (Sudan itself). Christians there continue to be persecuted, expelled, attacked, dispossessed and dispersed. At least one British newspaper keeps this in the news (others may be doing so, too, but I have only had time to check the one).

3. Lord Carey, former Archbishop for Canterbury has bashed the bishops for being so feeble as to defend the poor in the face of the governments welfare cut proposals. Actually, it is clear that the bishops in the House of Lords have not opposed cuts per se and do take seriously the need to re-calibrate who gets what in the future. With the caveat that I have lifted this from the OUTRAGED Daily Mail report, this is what Lord Carey said about the bishops’ amendment regarding Child Benefit:

‘Considering that the system they are defending can mean some families are able to claim a total of £50,000 a year in welfare benefits, the bishops must have known that popular opinion was against them, including that of many hard-working, hard-pressed churchgoers,’ he writes.

‘Yet these five bishops – led by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds – cannot lay claim to the moral high-ground.

Victoria Coren responded effectively in the Guardian, defending the right – nay, the obligation – of Christian bishops to speak on behalf of the poor, whether or not they win the eventual vote. But, my question really has to do with the insinuation that the bishops should not go against ‘popular opinion’. This cannot be serious. Since when has ‘popular opinion’ been the singular guide to ethics, Christian thought and action, or prophetic wisdom? Coren put it like this:

But I’m not a bishop. It doesn’t matter whether I think they’re right or wrong; I think it’s their job to do what the Bible tells them to do, ie look out for the needy, like the innocent children on whose behalf they raised the amendment, who might otherwise get lost.

The right-wing press that is so angry with the bishops has been complaining for years that Christianity (for better or worse, our national religion) is too weak and small a voice, that its values are not fought for. Now it’s happening, they hate it.

Lord Carey might have an opinion on the government’s handling of the debt, but to suggest that the bishops should be guided by popular opinion (as opposed to, say, the Bible?) is just weird.

Or have I missed something? 

When I worked as a professional linguist for the British government in the first half of the 1980s the colours on the map looked deep and fixed. The mighty Soviet Empire joined in proxy wars with the American Giant and the Berlin Wall looked pretty impregnable. The West was best and the East was a beast… according to the simplistic world view of most of us. China was bonkers – but that was OK because China was closed off from most of the world anyway. India was a bit of a post-colonial basket case.

It’s not very subtle really. We just tend to assume that the ‘now’ is the ultimate and, from the comfort of our relative affluence, we find it hard to imagine our towers cracking. You have to suffer to imagine radical change; it’s hope that imagines difference.

The world changes very quickly. What looks solid and permanent cracks and collapses in a seeming instant. The Soviet monolith dissolved, it’s tanks and guns neutered by popular refusal to be controlled by the taxidermic hypocrites of the incompetent Kremlin pantheon. The Berlin Wall was breached. Just as the British Empire waxed and waned within a period that is a blip of history, so the empires came and went. It is hard to believe today that the Cold War was ever that cold really.

And yet we find it hard to learn from history – even recent history. The USA proclaims itself the ‘land of the free’, but is skating on the surface of unsustainable debt and diminishing power – apparently divided between a polarised populace who can’t see that the world is changing, whether they like it or not.

Empires come and go. That’s what history teaches us. And when they begin to go, we begin to fantasise that if only we could go back to how it once was (but probably wasn’t), all would be well again. Which is why, in religious terms, some would like to take us all back to the seventeenth century rather than create a new world from where we are. Fantasy is the food of the fearful.

Yet, this is not true only of nations. The news is dominated by the on-going hacking scandal in the UK and the latest fear-driven financial crisis. The British tabloid press demonstrated an invincible hubris for decades, setting themselves above the law, seated on the thrones of moral judgement over everyone else. Today they look pretty sordidly feeble – built on criminality and greed. And the smell is spreading across the media and across the Atlantic. This probably isn’t a good time to set up a private detective agency…

Europe itself, like the USA, is walking on the thin ice of economic and financial hubris: massively in debt, manufacturing too little, too used to living off the fat. And we are finding it hard to choose change. We want it all – even when we know we can’t afford it. Amy Winehouse wasn’t the only one to find addiction too hard to reject.

We like to think that we would be the little boy who declares the emperor to be naked – when, actually, we would be colluding in the imperial fantasy. We like to think that we would defend Jesus from the demands to crucify him – when, actually, we would be joining in. After all, it’s not that hard to argue the case either way, is it?

The prophets of the Old Testament basically had a single simple message: if you claim to love God, then live in such a way as to incarnate his character. As Micah put it: “Love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly with God.” No hubris, no fantasy, no tyranny of any kind. Refusal to heed this led to exile and the loss of everything that spoke of God’s favour.

Empires are falling – some faster than others. It will be challenging to see what colour the world and it’s money will be by the end of the next decade… which is a mere blip of a slightly bigger blip of a history from which we rarely learn anything other than how to repeat it.

Today I’ll be celebrating an icon of hope: the wedding of my godson in London. More anon…

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Bradford

Was it just a matter of days ago that politicians were too fearful of the consequences of taking on Rupert Murdoch? The News International debacle has been so fast-moving that we easily lose track of time. Yet, until very recently our politicians – with very few exceptions – were unwilling to hold the press to account.

Unlike any other institution, the press were allowed to self-regulate. MPs weren’t to be trusted with such an obvious nonsense. And any MP stupid enough to take on the press were likely to find themselves a target. My personal experience is trivial, but having blogged about media acountability on one occasion I received a comment in which an anonymous journalist told me “we will get into every corner of your life and take you apart”. However bizarre, that sort of threat gets under your skin. So, it is perfectly understandable why public figures try to minimise the risk by either avoiding or schmoozing with the press.

So, just how bizarre was it today when we hear Labour leader Ed Miliband triumphantly proclaim that today the politicians have “held power to account”? Hang on a minute, the politicians hold the press to account – something they could have done for years, but were too compromised or afraid to do – and this is articulated as ‘power being held to account’?

First, it is the politicians who are supposed to be the ‘power’ that the press hold to account. This admission (was it a slip?) hides a confession of previous neglect of duty. The politicians had the power and gave it away out of fear. Or that, at least, is what it looks like.

Second, the statement removes the pretence from the press that they merely observe or expose – guardians of truth and defenders of integrity; now even the politicians are admitting that the press, as shapers of society and public opinion, have enormous power and need to be accountable. But, what a turn-around since they were scared witless by the expenses scandal (for the record, not exposed by News International) and Fleet Street reigned without challenge?

There was something unseemly about the parliamentary feeding frenzy today. Hindsight-blessed MPs stuck every knife available into someone they protected until only days ago – don’t forget the Tory defence of Murdoch’s BSkyB bid. Murdoch deserves to be exposed, but the politicians need to tell us why it took them so long. I guess the answer is that the bandwagon only came along last week.

So, the News of the Screws is closing. I doubt if there will be a great deal of sadness around. But, two questions arise:

First, despite the language of contrition used by James Murdoch, is this anything more than a brutal business decision to protect a brand (News International)? This is the man who stated without embarrassment at the 2009 Edinburgh Television Festival that the only value that matters is profit. I have critiqued that value system elsewhere. The language of contrition appears to hide what is a simple brand/business decision and we will need to wait and see what sort of beast replaces the NOTW in the News International stable.

Second, I cannot remember a time when the tabloids did not call instantly for the head of a government minister who presided – wittingly or unwittingly – over some misdemeanour in his or her department. The buck stops at the top. Why is it different at News International? Is this not a matter of principle rather than personality? James Murdoch’s defence of Rebekkah Brookes is breathtaking in its arrogance. Were she simply the current Chief Executive at a time of criminal revelation, that would be serious enough. Were she top dog of an organisation in which people misled her (and her bosses) over the extent of criminal and corrupt activity in her business, she would at least be guilty of rank incompetence – not having an appropriate grip over her employees. On both counts she could expect to go. But, having been in charge of the NOTW when all this stuff was going on, it is inconceivable that she can remain. She admits ignorance (and, therefore, incompetence) and the price to be paid is that 200 other people lose their job.

While writing this David Cameron has cut Andy Coulson loose and announced two inquiries: one into the hacking  business and one into how to clean up the press. Why has it taken until now for the impotence of the Press Complaints Commission to be recognised? Why until now for the scandalous behaviour of unaccountable tabloids to be stopped?

This is obviously a tough moment for Cameron himself and one that raises questions about his personal judgement in respect of what has influenced his decisions regarding Rupert Murdoch, Rebekkah Brookes and Andy Coulson. Loyalty is noble, but the Prime Minister’s primary loyalty is to the people and the rule of law – not to friends. If you have to ask someone if they are criminal, it is probably not very wise to employ them anyway.

If there is one lesson to be learned from all of this it is probably a simple one: expediency will always be called to account eventually.

I only hope that this mucky business sets good journalists free to do their work in a more clearly defined ethical environment and with the renewed confidence of a public that has confidence in their remit.

Closure of the News of the World might be sad for the good people who now work for it, but it isn’t a sad day for British culture or the media in general.

rupertmurdochI woke this morning to the news that journalists on a national newspapers have been systematically and repeatedly bugging people’s private phones.

I also am wondering if I should ever go for meetings at Church House, Westminster, again. According to the Bishop of Fulham at last week’s FCA launch, ‘Satan is alive and well and resides at Church House’.

And I am intrigued that the Queen has been dragged into the FCA business.

So, I have three areas of questioning running round my head:

1. Will the News International publish a list of every person whose phone was hacked? And, picking up another theme of recent bloggings, will journalists now push for an independent Press Complaints Commission – having insisted on such scrutiny for MPs?

2. Will the Bishop of Fulham tell us which bit of Church House is home to Satan – and give us names? I want either to avoid the said person or tackle him/her. I think we should be told. (And why did Archbishop Jensen or anybody else not question this bizarre statement at the time?)

3. It is clear, now that Anglican Mainstream has published the correspondence with Buckingham Palace, that the ‘letter from the Queen’ was no such thing and did not offer support to FCA. Why, then, did Chris Sugden (when being interviewed about this specific point on Sunday on BBC Radio 4) not simply deny it rather than leave the question of royal support open – suggesting that this would be revealed at the launch the next day and, therefore, setting off speculation and reaction?

I wonder if any of these questions will get answers? I have to admit, however, that the only one of importance to the real world is the first.