15 December 2017

Consider: Phone hacking scandal and the famine in East Africa.

Two main news stories have been prevalent on our TV screens and in our papers over the past few months.  One is the phone hacking scandal, throughout which we have all been shocked by revelations that telephones have been hacked into by reporters in order to secure the elusive ‘exclusive’ angle on the story.   The other is the horrific drought and subsequent famine in East Africa.  Somalia is the worst affected country, however, Kenya and Ethiopia are also feeling the effects of extreme water shortage and agricultural failures.

As we listen to these two headlines being announced on our news broadcast they can hardly seem more detached and unconnected.  One is happening on our own doorstep, the other is many miles away on a different continent.  One is based on the cut and thrust of modern media, the other is based on a very fundamental human need for water and sustenance.  One is based in the developed world we all intimately recognise, the other is based in the developing world with different language and culture.  Yet, when the surface is scratched I believe that the two stories are inextricably linked and point to the same common and core problem.
The phone hacking scandal has rumbled over a number of years, gaining momentum in the later stages of 2010 and into 2011.  The greatest media attention was initially focused on the allegations that celebrity’s phones were being hacked to gain private information that could be used in the Tabloid newspapers, The News of the World being the central instigator of the practice.

While this technique made us uncomfortable, we consoled ourselves with thoughts that celebrities were fair game, “Well, those people put themselves into the spotlight.  That type of thing actually benefits their career – you know the old adage, any publicity is good publicity!”  However, on 4th July,

2011 The Guardian newspaper reported allegations that the voicemail on murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked into by reporters in order to grab a headlining exclusive for their newspaper.  It has been suggested that tampering with her phone disrupted the police investigation into her disappearance while also causing untold upset to her family and friends. This allegation propelled the issue of phone hacking to the top of the headlines and there it has remained for the past few months.

The ‘fall out’ caused the News of the World to cease being printed, along

with a number of high profile resignations, namely that of Rebekah Brooks, the News International Chief Executive and Sir Paul Stephenson, Metropolitan Police Commissioner.  The Prime Minister himself has been challenged by the scandal as he had hired the ex-editor of the News of the World, Andrew Coulson as his communications chief.  Public outcry has been loud and far-reaching.

At the core of this scandal, lies the fundamental issue of man’s selfish desire to put himself before all others.  In each case a reporter made a decision to use unethical tactics to promote himself in his profession.  Each person who indulged in phone hacking put their own desire to preserve self, their job, their salary, their lifestyle, before the feelings and the rights of those they sought to report on.

It was a selfish desire for self-promotion and self-preservation that drove the reporters to hack into phones.

Of course, it can be argued that the pressure piled on by their bosses to feed the insatiable appetite of the public for scandal caused people to act in aberrant ways, however, these are only reasons, not excuses.  Each person has responsibility for his or her personal actions, and each person who used the technique of phone hacking did so because basic human egocentrism won the day.

A world away, the same problem is on display.  East Africa is in the grip of drought and famine.  It is believed that 10 million people in the region are at risk of starvation.  The Somali Foreign Minister has warned that 3.5 million people may starve to death in his country alone.  Analysts have suggested that the cause of the food shortage is not simply the lack of rainfall over the past few months; rather it is the failure of governments to invest in irrigation and agricultural programs.   For these reasons, tens of thousands of desperate people are leaving all they have and walking extreme distances to reach overstretched refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The BBC reported on ‘The Horn of Africa – a vision of Hell” within which they outlined the reality of the situation faced by individuals.  They focused particularly on the work of one nurse, Katharina Andrey, from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).  She is working on the frontline to try and save as many lives as possible.  In her interview she explained that some mothers are prepared to let their weak, malnourished child die, viewing it as a sacrifice in order to save their other children.  No matter who you are, or where you are in the world, no one should have to make this kind of choice.  It is stories like these that turn staid statistics into sharper reality.  We can begin to empathise with the human experience.

The world is taking notice.  The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) want to airlift vital food into Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia.   It is here where we can begin to draw parallels with the phone

hacking scandal.  The Somalis are in desperate need for the vital nutrition being offered by the UN.  However, the aid from the WFP is unable to get into the country.  The Islamist group, Al-shabab, controls much of the country and has decided that any help from the WFP is rooted in politics, rather than in a desire to save lives.  They have connections with Al Qaeda and are keen to keep the West out of Somalia.

At the core of Al-shabab’s refusal to allow aid into Somalia is the same basic human selfishness that we see in the phone hacking story.  Individual men are making the decision to put their own ideology before the needs and the very lives of fellow human beings.  They are choosing to selfishly place politics before people and religion before rescue.  Rather than empathising with their fellow countrymen and understanding the desperation of a mother having to choose to leave a weak child behind to die, they selfishly use the famine situation to promote their political standpoint.

Doesn’t all this simply highlight man’s fallen nature?  Whether it be hacking into a phone, or using political power to control food supplies, isn’t it obvious that, “we all…fall short of the glory of God”?

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is clear to me that if this teaching is taken to heart by more of us, we would not be in a position where we are faced with these types of news stories on a daily basis.  Praise God that He offers each of us a remedy for this endemic selfishness  – the blood of His own Son, Jesus Christ.

Christine Cordner