Murdoch denies seeking favors from UK leaders
Media baron Rupert Murdoch tried on Wednesday to downplay his influence on British politics, saying in his first appearance at a press ethics inquiry he had never asked a prime minister for anything.
His testimony on oath at the Leveson inquiry in London came a day after claims emerged during evidence from his son James that a minister leaked details to Murdoch’s News Corp. about a bid for control of pay-TV giant BSkyB.
The 81-year-old told British lawmakers last year that he had meetings with a string of British leaders including Prime Minister David Cameron, but on Wednesday Murdoch said he wanted to “put some myths to bed.”
“I’ve never asked a prime minister for anything,” Murdoch told the judge-led inquiry sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice, as he discussed ties going back as far as premier Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s.
Murdoch also rejected “untrue” rumours that he was unhappy with Cameron for ordering the inquiry following the phone-hacking scandal that closed down his News of the World newspaper in July last year.
But the fallout continued from the documents that News Corp. released to the inquiry on Tuesday, with culture minister Jeremy Hunt saying he would make a statement to parliament to rebuff calls for his resignation.
Emails and texts apparently showed that Hunt’s office leaked information to US-based News Corp. about its bid for full control of the highly profitable BSkyB. The bid collapsed in July last year due to the hacking row.
Hunt, who is lead minister for the Olympic Games which open in London on July 27, was charged with the decision on whether the takeover should be allowed to go ahead.
“I am going to be making a very, very determined effort to show that I behaved with total integrity,” the minister told reporters as he left his home early Wednesday.
Cameron’s spokesman insisted the premier had full confidence in Hunt but the premier was expected to face a grilling at Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions session in parliament.
Murdoch’s testimony at the inquiry is his highest profile appearance in Britain since he told a parliamentary committee last year that he had meetings with Cameron and former premiers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Murdoch was also attacked with a foam pie at that hearing.
Giving evidence on Tuesday, James Murdoch, the deputy chief operating officer of News Corp., said he had discussed the proposed takeover with Cameron at a 2010 Christmas party.
Cameron has previously denied having had any “inappropriate conversations” with James Murdoch at the party.
Transcripts of emails and text messages between Frederic Michel, News Corp’s public affairs executive, and Adam Smith, special advisor to Hunt, appeared to reveal close collaboration over how to counter the deal’s opponents.
In one text published on the inquiry’s website, Michel wrote: “Think we are in a good place, no?”, to which Smith replied: “Very yes. Jeremy (Hunt) happy.”
Britain’s newspapers suggested the Murdoch family were exacting revenge after the government distanced itself from News Corp. in the wake of the hacking scandal.
“Murdochs turn tables on Cameron and Hunt,” said the Financial Times on its front page, while the Daily Mail carried the headline: “Revenge of the Murdochs”.
In Tuesday’s session, James Murdoch also repeated his assertion that he did not know about the extent of phone hacking at the 168-year-old News of the World.
The Sunday tabloid was forced to shut down after a wave of revelations that its staff illegally accessed the voicemail messages of a murdered teenage girl and the families of dead soldiers as well as dozens of celebrities.
The scandal claimed the jobs of two senior policemen with ties to the News of the World, and Cameron’s media advisor, a former editor of the tabloid.
Murdoch still owns The Sun, The Times and the Sunday Times in Britain. News Corp also owns the Wall Street Journal and Fox News in the United States.