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Rupert Murdoch questioned over his political influence

Rupert Murdoch questioned over his political influence

As the fallout continues over allegations of phone hacking and corruption at News International, Rupert Murdoch appeared before the Leveson Inquiry today to answer questions about his personal relationship with politicians and the political influence wielded by his UK newspapers.

Under the intense gaze of international media outlets, Murdoch told the inquiry that he had never used the reporting from his papers as a way to further his business interests. "I have never asked a prime minister for anything," Murdoch told the inquiry, also stating, "I take a particularly strong pride that we have never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers."

With questions scrutinising his relationships with UK Prime Ministers as far back as Margaret Thatcher, the inquiry sought to establish whether the media mogul had undue political influence in the UK. Murdoch downplayed his political pull, saying for example that, “I met Mr. Blair, if you look at the record, an average of two, maybe three times in the same year.” He also stressed, "I, in 10 years he was in power, never asked Mr Blair for anything, nor did I receive any favours."

However, the News Corp CEO and founder did discuss the importance that politicians attached to supportive coverage from his papers. Murdoch testified that, after the Sun endorsed the Conservatives in 2009, he received a phone call from former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who told him, “your company has declared war on my government and we have no alternative to make war on your company.”

Yet Murdoch sought to suggest that his papers didn’t play too decisive a role in directing British politics. He distanced himself from the now-infamous “It’s the Sun Wot Won It” headline, which claimed responsibility for the Conservative candidate John Major’s victory in 1992. "It was tasteless and wrong for us. We don't have that sort of power," he said, implying that the paper’s editor at the time, Kelvin MacKenzie, received “a terrible bollocking” from him after the headline was published.

But Murdoch implied that, on the whole, he had strong editorial influence over the contents of the Sun, a paper that he said he was “always closer to” than the News of the World. "If any politicians wanted my opinion on major matters, they only had to read editorials in the Sun," he asserted, quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

Yet despite suggesting that his views are reflected in the popular British tabloid, Murdoch stated unequivocally that he did not direct the coverage of his broadsheet newspapers. “I never gave instruction to the editor of the Times or Sunday Times,” he said, although he added, “sometimes when I was available on a Saturday I would say what's the news today, out of idle curiosity perhaps."

Murdoch’s testimony came the day after evidence was shown to the inquiry, implying that culture secretary Jeremy Hunt had given special favours to News Corp in support of the company’s bid to take over BSkyB. In what the Guardian called “the most dramatic day of hearings at Leveson yet” the inquiry was shown emails between the News Corps’ lobbyist Frédéric Michel and Jeremy Hunt’s office, which appeared to suggests that Hunt gave News Corp market-sensitive information in private. Labour leadership has called for Hunt to stand down, but today his special advisor Adam Smith, who was the direct author of many of the emails, stood down instead. As the BBC reports, Hunt has insisted that he “strictly followed due process" in handling the BSkyB bid, and Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed his support for the culture secretary. Leveson told today’s hearing that he would consider “every side of the story” before drawing any conclusion from the emails.

In the furore, it’s arguable that Rupert Murdoch’s attitude to phone hacking has fallen down the agenda. At today’s inquiry, he stated that he disapproved of phone-hacking and the use of private detectives, which he described as “a lazy way of reporters not doing their jobs."

Sources: The Guardian (1) (2) (3) (4) (5), Forbes, Wall Street Journal, NYTimes, BBC


Hannah Vinter


2012-04-25 17:52

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