Empires are built on the lives of an unsuspecting public. People are spied on, privacy is intruded upon and reputations are battered. Every once in a while, however rare that may be, the empire gets to taste its own concoction. It will taste so bitter that the very empire that manufactured it will wonder at the ruthless content of the mixture. Rupert Murdoch and his media empire are facing the heat. The hacking of phones and the subsequent investigations has led to the closing down of one of U.K.’s oldest newspapers, the News of the World. On July 19 in a rigorous exercise by the Parliamentary Committee in the House of Commons in the U.K., the father and son duo were made to answer some hard questions. One interesting thing which came out of the much publicized affair was the term “willful blindness.” As through the entire questioning, the media baron sought to hide behind the term itself.
Margaret Heffernan in her upcoming book “Why we ignore the obvious at our peril” tries to explore this term. She explains “examining examples of willful blindness in the Catholic Church, the SEC, Nazi Germany, Bernard Madoff's investors, BP's safety record, the military in Afghanistan and the dog-eat-dog world of subprime mortgage lenders” how we fail to see and admit certain things. In an article on Rupert Murdoch himself she identifies some characteristics of willful blindness which come out of the News of the World episode. They include “ideology, obedience, conformity, money, power and affirmation”.
Rupert Murdoch’s net worth is $7.6 billion. Yet with all this money he still had to undergo the unsettling questions of the parliamentary committee in the U.K. For the first time the media baron was made to answer questions which he looked like evading most of the time. The event, broadcast live even in India brought out his importance and the fact that other media houses for once could get back at the person who threatened to take away readers and viewers from them. In India it also brought forward a debate on whether it would be possible to bring powerful media owners to task in this country and have a parliamentary committee asking them uncomfortable questions. The predominant argument that came out was that this would not be possible as Indian politicians are themselves so corrupt that they cannot question the corrupt practices of the media here.
What this debate has done is to bring out the importance of the usage willful blindness. This is an important point of discussion for the church as the church may also fall into the same wrong of willful blindness saying that ‘ we did not know.’ But the question of ‘did we not seek to know or want to know’ is also pertinent. Whenever the church is faced with allegations of wrong doing it could be that the church leaders may feign ignorance and say we were blind to the happenings. Wrong doing could include not only the now popular topic of corruption but also the centuries old wrong doing of gender and caste related atrocities and wrongs. Discussing this more openly could bring more responsibility, accountability and the addressing of wrong doing in the church and society at large.