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Editorials

Hard pressed

Over the last month, news of the mendaciousness of Rupert Murdoch's media empire has been impossible to avoid. And equally difficult to miss have been the people revelling in the discomfort felt by News International executives. Common among the reaction has been the insistence that the revelations have been unsurprising - that we always knew that phone hacking and police bribery were an accepted part of tabloid journalism.

Well, maybe so. It is certainly clear that, in some quarters at least, Britain's lack of deference to authority has included those who bring us the news, once an inviolable part of the establishment. And, when media tycoons like Conrad Black are imprisoned, or others like the Barclay brothers shape British opinion while avoiding British taxes, this seems like a rational response. But how free are we in the church to take the moral high ground? In 1998, Rupert Murdoch was awarded with a papal knighthood - the highest honor the Pope can bestow on laypeople. It designated him as having 'unblemished character'. On receiving it he was told he was an example of 'good peer pressure', a 'positive influence on society and culture'.

In evangelical circles, too, Murdoch is well-connected, being the publisher of the NIV Bible, Rob Bell's Love Wins and the best-selling works of megachurch leader Rick Warren (who claims to be Rupert Murdoch's pastor). When Billy Graham was in his pomp, the press mogul rang him personally to say he was praying for his mission.

Ah, the United States of America. But the Church of England invests in News International to the tune of almost four million pounds. And plenty of Britain's new post-evangelical authors have found a home at Hodder & Stoughton, another Murdoch outlet.

Those who see the world in black and white are appalled. 'I know it's not considered polite to be judgmental but I'll say it: to work for any part of News Corp, Murdoch, Fox and/or any or all of his companies, let alone to publish books with him, makes you an accomplice to a very bad person' says the religious writer Frank Schaeffer. Others argue that the same is true every time you buy a banana, or a computer built - as they so often are - by people who do not earn a living wage.

In short, each of us has become complicit in exploitation and unethical business practices. For all have sinned. But to see this as an inescapable mire is to ignore the call of the Lord's Prayer to encourage on earth what we might expect in heaven. Our shared purchasing power is strong enough to encourage a cultural change - so long as we are prepared to investigate our spending. This is tiresome, unending and expensive. But it is service. We were never promised that it would be easy.