When confronted with misdeeds on this scale, a common reaction (which I notice in my own instincts) is to seek to put a face on the problem, a single individual who can be held ultimately responsible. We want the buck to stop somewhere. The legal pursuit of the questions of who knew what when is important and such investigations are likely to take some time. In the meantime, an impatient public desires visible signs of justice. If we cannot get convictions just yet, we will settle for resignations.
We so desperately want to be able to find someone to blame, some focus for our fury at the damage caused by a system of corruption in which media, police and politicians were too close and saw their own good in terms of a small circle than the national interest they claimed to be representing. We want to know that our violated trust is being taken seriously. Resignations serve as symbolic steps in this direction; they speak to a collective desire to start again and are a metaphor of what it looks like for an organisation to repent.
But there are deeper questions at stake. Individuals did indeed commit crimes and moral failures (either of commission or omission). Many participated in looking the other way, being willfully blind to what was going on because it was more convenient to maintain deniability (or perhaps they continue to mislead political authorities). But to leave the analysis at the level of individuals fails to take account of the dynamics that can exist at a supra-individual level. The whole can often be greater than the sum of the parts. If the only lessons we take away from this saga involve the need for greater personal integrity, we miss the opportunity to ask how the very structures might have served to sideline, subvert or dilute integrity.
There are individual failures, but also failures of structure, failures of collective imagination. They are failures of systems that are based on seeking the wrong kinds of inclusion, systems that punish those who speak up while rewarding those who conform without questioning the quality of what is shared. Whether a for-profit corporation can simulatenously claim to be serving its shareholders and the common good is an interesting question, as is whether a political system in which an MP is required to win more votes than any other candidate every five years encourages a myopic and image-driven politics.
When a corporation is accountable to its shareholders' interests and those interests are understood in narrow financial terms (as they usually are), then the only place that ethical considerations enter into it is the impulse to avoid anything unethical insofar as it hurts the bottom line. Therefore, the recent fall in News Corp shares is the real crime Rupert and his various officers have committed.
But of course that way madness lies, and the reaction of the public to this scandal is partly media-driven hysteria (the very same hysteria that News have used to successfully to drive sales) and partly genuine moral outrage that speaks to a standard other than the bottom line. There is more to living well than making a profit and there is more to a flourishing nation (or world) than a growing GDP. Therefore, there must be more to a healthy company than a rising share price. Let us resist the colonisation of our ethical thought by cost-benefit risk analysis that seeks to put a price on everything. The language of money cannot adequately translate the full complexity and richness of our moral existence and to rely on it to do so is to abdicate our responsibility for pursuing good and shunning evil.