Former prime minister Tony Blair Tuesday described phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. as “despicable”, but said he did not believe it had happened to him.
Blair, who was in power during the years much of the hacking allegedly took place, would not comment on whether 80-year-old Murdoch should resign from the global empire he has built over decades.
But he weighed into the debate with comments on media relations.
“Obviously what happened in relation to the hacking was pretty despicable,” he told journalists in Melbourne at a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Britain’s former leader said it was important that inquiries “get to the bottom of what has happened” after the now-defunct News of the World tabloid was revealed to have accessed the mobile phone voicemails of well-known people.
But he said he did not think his messages were among those of the politicians, celebrities and journalists accessed by the paper because he did not carry a phone when he was leader, from 1997 to 2007.
“When I was prime minister of the UK I never had a mobile phone — which nowadays I think was a real advantage for me,” Blair said.
“So I’ve never thought that it was possible that I would be (hacked). But I honestly have no idea.”
Blair, in Australia on a speaking tour, refused to be drawn on whether Australian-born Murdoch should resign.
“Everyone agrees that the hacking of that poor girl’s phone was despicable,” he said in reference to teenage murder victim Milly Dowler whose phone was hacked after she went missing.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who would dispute that — including the Murdochs. But what happens at News International is a matter for them.”
Blair said it was important for politicians to have relationships with the media but that they needed to be grounded.
“I think one thing that is very important is to try to get those relationships right in the sense that the media is an important part of our democracy,” he said.
“On the other hand, governments should govern for the public interest.
“And I think it’s sensible therefore that in the light of what’s happened in the UK, at least, we look at that and how we can put it on a better footing.”
Blair, who admitted to having a “tough time” with the press on occasions, said for most politicians the key issue was media outlets making a distinction between news and comment.
Unlike his successor Gordon Brown, who launched a scathing attack on the Murdoch press as the hacking scandal unfolded, former Labour leader Blair did not condemn the tycoon or his papers.
And with Britain’s political class seeking to play down their links with News and its executives, Blair said he could not recall how the media mogul had entered Downing Street during his London visits.
In his evidence to the House of Commons committee, Murdoch said he entered the residence via the back door when he met Prime Minister David Cameron after the 2010 election.
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