IT WOULD be cruel — it will be cruel — to lay out the views of the Archbishop of York against those of Sue Akers, a Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry on Monday. But it is still worth doing. Here is the policewoman:
“Payments by journalists [on the The Sun] to public officials have been identified in the following categories: police; military; health; government; prison, and others. The evidence suggests that such payments were being made to public officials across all areas of public life.
“The current assessment of the evidence is that it reveals a network of corrupted officials. There appears to have been a culture at The Sun of illegal payments, and systems have been created to facilitate such payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money.
“There is a recognition by the journalists that this behaviour is illegal, reference being made to staff ‘risking losing their pension or job’, to the need for ‘care’ and to the need for ‘cash payments’. . . The evidence further suggests that the authority level for such payments to be made, is provided at a senior level within the newspaper.”
And here is the Archbishop in his column in The Sun on Sunday, the day before this testimony was given:
“What a fantastic honour to be given the opportunity to write a column in the first ever The Sun on Sunday. Today is a new dawn. A fresh start.
“When I think that we can now get the latest news, politics and sports stories seven days a week from our country’s favourite paper, all I can say is ‘WOW!’”
WOW. And wow again. “Ours is a God of second opportunities. Wow!
“With that in mind, live in hope, free from fear. Embrace every day that God puts before you with confidence.
“And if you can buy The Sun seven days a week, even better!”
As a professional journalist, I am in no position to denounce the Archbishop for anything. I have written for Richard Desmond, who told the Leveson inquiry that he doesn’t know what the word “ethics” means — perhaps so that he would for once be credited with telling the exact truth. Nor did I give my fees from the Express to charity. The Archbishop is giving his to a hospice, perhaps one where principles can go to die with dignity.
And at a time when religious coverage is confined almost entirely to the broadsheets and, sometimes, the Daily Mail, it cannot be wrong to try to widen the range of outlets.
It would also do the Church an enormous amount of good if there were a right-wing priest half as good at journalism as Canon Giles Fraser. The idea that the Church of England is The Guardian at prayer — or at least The Guardian thinking about praying, tomorrow, when no one is looking — does neither the Church nor the paper any good.
Jesus sat down to eat with all sorts of people. He would have been happy to appear on Steve Doughty’s expenses claims. But I’m not sure that he would have proclaimed the resurrection of The Sun on Sunday.
IF PEOPLE genuinely want to spread the message of the Church, they should be concentrating on local papers (which, for one thing, their readers more or less trust to be truthful), and the more local the better.
There’s no harm done by appearing in the national press. I think that the readers of the tabloids treat everything they see there as more or less entertainment, with no relevance whatever to ordinary life; so a good sermon would fit in very happily with the rest of the mix.
The problem of corruption at The Sun and the News of the World is not about journalistic ethics. It is about the corruption of the state, on whose honesty we all depend. The allegations deal with the systematic bribery, over a long period, of policemen, prison officers, and serving soldiers, among others. This was known and approved, Akers says, at a senior level within the newspaper. And, in a related development, the Leveson inquiry has also been shown an email from the company’s chief legal adviser, suggesting that more than a million pounds was paid by the News of the World to one crooked private investigator.
Remember here that all the journalists arrested at The Sun have been released to continue at their jobs. But if they really can’t decide whether to put a crooked police officer on the front page or on the payroll, they are not the sort of people whom an Archbishop should be praising. And (wow) maybe the chance to buy The Sun seven days a week is not strictly comparable to the news that God has forgiveness for everyone.