Tony Blair admits he feared ‘powerful’ press
Former British prime minister Tony Blair said he made a strategic decision not to take on the power of the media during his time in office, as he testified at a press ethics inquiry on Monday.
Blair, who was premier between 1997 and 2007, said he feared the battle would be so immense that it would prevent his Labour government from getting anything else done.
The 59-year-old was giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, as it turns its radar on the links between politicians and the media.
Blair was to be asked about his close relationship with Rupert Murdoch. Blair is godfather to one of Murdoch’s children, while Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper, the Murdoch-owned Sun, backed him in three elections.
The former prime minister said it was inevitable that top politicians and senior media executives would have a close interaction, but it was important to stop the relationship from becoming unhealthy.
He said the biggest problem in the British press was the blurred lines between news and comment in some papers, where reporting stops becoming straightforward journalism and instead becomes an “instrument of political power”.
“You certainly do fear the power being directed at you,” he said.
“I took a strategic decision — this was not an issue that I was going to take on.
“The way priority comes into this is as follows: I was trying to do a lot things I believed in for the country, for the Labour Party and so on.
“My view, rightly or wrongly, was that if, in those circumstances, I had said ‘right, I have decided what I’m going to do is take on the media and change the law in relation to the media’.
“My view is you would have had to have cleared the decks. This would have been an absolute major confrontation. The price you would pay for that would actually push out a lot of the things I cared more about,” he said, citing some of the reforms he drove through.
Blair said the two most powerful newspapers were The Sun and the right-leaning Daily Mail.
If you fell out with the Daily Mail, you were were subjected to an “all-out attack”, he told the inquiry, adding that his family and those close to him had been subjected to such treatment.
The inquiry was set up by current Prime Minister David Cameron in July in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal at the Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid which has since been shut down.
Culture minister Jeremy Hunt, who has battled calls to resign over evidence heard by the inquiry, will also give a full day of evidence on Thursday.
The Leveson Inquiry published emails last month revealing that Hunt’s office leaked information to News Corp. about its bid to gain full control of pay-TV giant BSkyB.
News Corp. was forced in July to drop the bid for the highly profitable broadcaster, of which it still controls 39 percent, amid public outcry over the phone-hacking scandal.
Australian-born Murdoch, 81, was forced to close the News of the World tabloid in July amid a storm of revelations that it accessed the voicemail messages of a murdered teenage girl as well as dozens of public figures.