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Murdoch’s Dowler Settlement: Atonement Or Blood Money?

Posted on the 20 September 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost

Murdoch’s Dowler settlement: Atonement or blood money?

Rupert Murdoch answering a question at the culture select committee hearing, July 19, 2011. Photo credit: Ben Terrett

The family of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler have been offered nearly £3 million by Rupert Murdoch’s News International (NI) as the company tries to draw a line under the ugly (and ongoing) phone-hacking scandal. According to multiple reports, the main principles of the settlement between NI and the Dowler family have been agreed and the package is expected to be finalised in the coming days.

The huge payout, which The Independent understands is to be divided between Milly Dowler’s family (£2 million) and charities (£1 million) designated by them, comes after Murdoch repeatedly apologised for the interception of her voicemails by a private investigator working on behalf of The News of the World Sunday tabloid. The revelation that Dowler’s phone was hacked after her disappearance in March 2002 – and that messages were deleted from her phone, giving her family false hope that she was still alive – was a tipping point in the phone hacking saga. In response to public outrage, News International took the extraordinary decision to shut the 168-year-old newspaper and then-editor Rebekah Brooks was forced to resign from her executive position at NI.

Payment resets the compensation bar. At, Nigel Horne insisted that the payout is whopping by any measure: “The unprecedented payment resets the bar for this kind of compensation.” Horne observed that it “far outstrips” the £60,000 paid by The News of the World to Max Mosley after breaching his privacy with an article about him taking part in a sado-masochistic orgy. It also “puts in the shade” the £100,000 paid to the actress Sienna Miller, one of the many celebrity victims of phone-hacking at The News of the World

Conscience money. Geoffrey Robertson QC, quoted in The Times, called the payout “conscience money, not compensation”. He said: “This is vastly more than a judge would award, although a jury might well do so — and perhaps that is an argument for juries deciding privacy cases. But actually this is not compensation at all. It is conscience money — both for the hacking and for the insincerity of Rupert Murdoch’s original apology to the family while he was paying the hacker’s legal fees.”

Too big a payout? Also at The Times, QC Richard Lissack, suggested that size of the sum might actually offend some people: “This award is not in any sense comparable with what you’d expect as compensation for the loss of an arm, or eye — it is a different order of magnitude. Those awards could be in six figures. But the size of it mimics the noise surrounding this issue. If you have suffered an accident, and you are reading your newspaper and you see this award — terrible though the hacking was — you might feel there is somewhat of [a] disparity.”

Murdoch remains a bogeyman. James Chapman of The Daily Mail argued that the “political impact” of the settlement will be “very little.” Chapman insisted that “Murdoch remains a bogeyman in Westminster” and noted that News International’s “traditional glittering soirees” at the party conferences have been cancelled. Chapman said the “political temperature on Hackgate has cooled” but insisted that the Dowler settlement “won’t stop Murdoch’s tormenters in Westminster, driven as most of them they are by personal vendettas against the empire or one of its outlets, from pursuing him.”

Real consolation to Dowlers is hackgate’s damage to the Murdoch empire. Snarky website Gawker described News International as “the most scandalous division of News Corp”, and labeled the payout “blood money.” “Sorry! The revelation of the Milly Dowler hacking spawned the entire Hackgate scandal that’s terrorized the company for months now, costing it, probably, hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in lost profit, all told. Perhaps that is more consolation than the direct payout.”

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