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15 June 2012

Who is hearing you?

Who is hearing you?

The hearings of the Leveson Inquiry – the public investigation into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press - rolled into their seventh month this week. And like a familiar iPod in shuffle mode, another crop of public figures and political faces were seen and heard. Brown, Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and Osborne were among the classics downloaded and added to the playlist, which already included the overtures of Blair, Cable, Clarke, Jowell and May.

The initial announcement of an inquiry was made by the prime minister in July 2011, following a much-publicised phone-hacking scandal. After outlining the parameters of the inquiry, and identifying its victims, Team Leveson’s bus pulled into town, set up its decks in Westminster and the hearings kicked off in earnest in November 2011. They began to call those affected as well as those implicated, and sometimes more news seemed to be being made of the people appearing before the inquiry than the purpose of the inquiry itself.

In terms of public awareness, the inquiry hearings were in the charts right up to the end of 2011, pausing briefly around Christmas and Easter before resuming with momentum each time. So it is no surprise then, that these hearings were still in the top ten as the country partied for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Even as many are flying the flag for football, cheering (or crying) for the cricket, tidying up for the tennis or anticipating the 2012 Olympics, the calling up, questioning and evidence gathering of Team Leveson continues. And all for the public’s good.

By definition a public inquiry is an official review into an event or actions. It is official because it is ordered by government and public because it is usually conducted with the expected observation and participation of interested individuals or groups. And if it is going to be credible, this kind of exploration and scrutiny needs to be thorough and transparent.

To-date, not all the music that has been made by the artists selected to appear at Team Leveson’s gig have been tuneful, in key or in time. The process has been demanding for some and damaging for others, and only time (literally) will tell just how far reaching the effects of media intrusion and unscrupulous irregularities have gone. In this process though, it seems that no-one is beyond being called for questioning, or being recalled if required.  And so the inquiry continues...

Being scrutinised in public or in private isn’t usually a comfortable experience, but as revelation after damning revelations comes to our ears like poorly mixed recordings and badly arranged covers, I wonder whether deeper lessons of responsibility and accountability can be learnt, both for those in public life and those who are not?

When Jesus says in Matthew 5:16 (NIV): 'In the same way, let your light shine’, he wasn’t referring to the shock discovery of the violation of privacy, nor of the unsolicited intrusion of a media group, or even to a time-limited period of scrutiny of an official body or interest group as a result. He was, I think, championing a kind of life and lifestyle that is ethically and morally well-behaved, both in and out of the lime light, and which is, and remains, genuine and authentic when put under the spotlight. I also think Jesus calls me to do more than spin a story or to manage our public reputation when an inquiry team comes to town.

I’m hearing a clear call to expect to be observed and to be effective in my dealings with and toward others, acting accountably and responding responsibly in all my dealings, so that the goodness of God is seen by those who I encounter as well as, those who encounter me. And that is the kind of life tune that could be downloaded and played on repeat.

Katei Kirby, Belonging Together Partnership Officer, The Methodist Church