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22 July 2011

When saying 'sorry' is just not enough

When saying 'sorry' is just not enough

"We are sorry,"were the words at the top of a letter from Rupert Murdoch to the family of Milly Dowler. It was a letter to say 'sorry' for the actions of the News of the World newspaper and its role in the hacking of the murdered teenager's telephone.  Further apologies emerged in national newspapers and in parliamentary hearings for the Sunday tabloid's hacking actions, which also targeted the relatives of members of the armed forces killed in action, 9/11 victims, famous sportspeople and various celebrities. If we throw into the equation the loss of jobs with the closure of the News of the World, high profile resignations, doubts over the neutrality of our police force, arrests that have moved into double figures, the death of at least one person in addition to widespread hurt, shock and condemnation: is saying 'sorry' really enough?

Within his letter, Murdoch actually answers this question for us by stating that he realises apologising is not enough. In addition to the apology, the letter expresses admission of wrongdoing, regret for not acting faster, confession of failure to live up to the organisation's standards and a commitment to resolve issues plus make amends for damage caused. So with this commitment to do more than say 'sorry' what should we be looking for from the guilty parties in this sorry affair? Should we hold our breath for a new Sunday newspaper that expresses higher moral standards? Should we anticipate full cooperation with the authorities to prosecute those who are guilty? Should we expect compensation claims to be paid to the victims speedily and in full? Or should we be looking for more?

Judaeo-Christian values would look out for more than an apology alone; the legal tradition of this ethos would require that justice is done, i.e. perpetrators are found and punished plus victims are somehow compensated for the hurt and damage they are suffering. Recognising such application from an Old Testament law tradition could be difficult and complicated as the cultural understanding of public versus private and individual versus community was very different then. Nevertheless Torah principles could be acted upon where there have been deliberate actions to satisfy greed and the lust for power at the cost of people in vulnerable circumstances.

I personally long for a Zacchaeus moment (Luke 19:8) where someone who had consistently cheated, swindled, and robbed the downtrodden for his personal gain by abusing the system of the day willingly offered restitution to victims as a result of an encounter with the Truth. I'm not sure the perpetrators are going to have a dinner chat with Jesus in this life time, but oh, for such a moment of enlightenment that would bring so much more healing into the lives of those hurt than following the requirements of law.

So no, sorry is not enough.  I think what we are looking for is (and to use an old-fashioned term) repentance: a change of mind, a change of thinking, a change of attitude that leads to a change of direction and behaviour...Hmm, imagine the impact if we all embraced such an approach rather than opting for the easy solution of just saying 'sorry'.


David Oakley, Ambassadors in Sport