There is no way that Rupert Murdoch’s proposed offer of around 3 million to the Dowler family can be anything but unsettling. The money, mighty to the family, miniscule to the Murdochs – draw attention to the contradictions swirling around the deal.
This is not to join the tendency to deride ‘compensation culture’: redress and reparation are important contributions to individuals whose wellbeing has been vitally injured, to their recovery, and to social recognition.
The cruel irony for the Dowlers is that these millions compromise their own wellbeing: this money is about someone who can never profit from it, Millie. The Dowlers will now have to manage Murdoch’s largesse. Nothing can ever be enough, and yet this is already too much.
They will also have to manage the meaning of Murdoch’s offer. There is no restorative justice here. Murdoch himself needed to meet the Dowlers, he needed his face-to-face humbling because he and his empire needed forgiveness. He needed to perform virtue and to have it rewarded and recognised by his victims.
So, this offer denotes neither contrition nor conscience nor compensation – because those words imply change.
What is Murdoch giving the Dowlers? The money is peanuts for an empire that is almost the most powerful media organisation in the world. It is pennies for the man himsef, reckoned to be the 13th most powerful person in the world.
What he is not giving the Dowlers nor the other hacking victims, nor British culture, which has been so degraded by his presence, is the promise of dignified and deep reform of his media practices.
The context of the offer is salutory: in the very same week the Metropolitan police tried to mobilise the Official Secrets Act to scare the Guardian, the scourge of News International.
It was the Guardian’s revelations about the NoW hacking and interference in the Dowler investigation that detonated the hacking scandal. It morphed from a scandal about celebrity privacy to a scandal about the the breaching of any code, public or private; and it exposed a most dangerous triangulation: the intimate circuit connecting the News International, the Met and Conservative Party HQ. The promiscuous spread of NoW personnel into the police and the highest echelons of a political party secures for the Tories illicit access to information. Knowledge is power.
The Dowlers didn’t put themselves into that scandal – but they are in it, nevertherless.
The Met’s audacity in trying to terrify the press with the Official Secrets Act shows that it is still trying to lock the gates of the Temple rather than cleanse it. The Met is still trying to protect itself rather than the public and the public interest. The Met’s managers don’t seem to know what world they are living in after Dowlergate – until the outraged reaction forced withdrawal.
Not to have anticipated the calumny caused by the Dowler case and then by the Official Secrets Act caper, exposes its media department – a quarter of its staff former NoW hacks – as equally unworldly.
This week Conservative Party HQ isn’t in the narrative, but if the Met is News International’s security arm – see Jonathan Freedland: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/sep/20/new-met-chief-u-turn-misjudgment – then the Tories are also hardwired into this circuit. This is very sinister.
Unwittingly the Dowlers found themselves positioned in this narrative and the campaign to crack hacking – http://hackinginquiry.org/news/hacked-off-manifesto – it is to be hoped that the money won’t take them out of it.