Former Prime Minister Tony Blair answered questions at the Leveson Inquiry for hours on May 28, mostly on his relationship with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, a relationship that many say was too cosy during Blair’s time as leader.
Blair admitted to the inquiry that he and Murdoch became closer after he left office, until which time they only had “a working relationship”. Blair said he was aware of the position of the Murdoch news empire on certain issues, including its stand against European integration, but brushed off comments that Murdoch lobbied him on “media stuff”.
When it came to regulatory matters that concerned the business of Murdoch’s companies “we decided more often against than in favour,” Mr. Blair told Lord Justice Leveson.
Blair is godfather to Murdoch’s daughter Grace.
THE STRONGMAN OF THE MEDIA
Murdoch is often cited as one of the most influential men in British politics. His company News International runs the Sun newspaper, a daily which has had the largest circulation of any in the UK for years. His weekly News of the World was the highest-selling Sunday paper in the country before its sudden shut-down over the large-scale phone-hacking scandal that prompted the inquiry itself.
In comments by Blair at the inquiry the fact was quite clear:
“Am I saying he’s not a powerful figure in the media? Well no, of course he is, and, of course you’re aware of what his views are, and that’s why I say part of my job was to manage the situation so that you didn’t get into a situation where you were shifting policy.”
The inquiry opened on November 14 last year. Many prominent figures in the media and politics have appeared to give evidence so far, including former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell , WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, writer JK Rowling, actor Hugh Grant, and Murdoch’s protégée Rebekah Brooks who climbed the ladder of ambition from editing both the Sun and the News of the World to being the CEO of News International in a matter of a few years.
BLAIR’S CREAMPIE MOMENT – NEARLY
Blair’s hearing may prove to be the most eventful in the inquiry. When he was giving evidence, a man burst in from the back of the room shouting, accusing Blair of corruption and calling him a “war criminal”.
Lord Justice Leveson apologised to Blair twice and ordered an urgent investigation into the incident. The courtrooms are supposed to be secure and protected. This will mean the security will be heightened to a much higher degree by the time current Prime Minister David Cameron gives evidence in the next few weeks.
Murdoch himself experienced a similar incident last year when a man slipped through security to enter a parliamentary committee room in which Murdoch was giving evidence to MPs. On that occasion the intruder was able to throw a cream pie in the face of the media mogul.
FROM THERE TO HERE
The scandal began from small corners of people’s personal lives, but so far it has rocked the way in which the media operate and drawn attention to how politicians communicated with the likes of Murdoch. It has led to a parliamentary report that declared Murdoch “unfit” to lead and take ownership of the broadcaster BSkyB, while his shining star Brooks has been given criminal charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
It is refreshing that such a high-level inquiry is examining the often too cosy relationship between powerful media magnates and senior politicians. However, there is the danger that the outcome of it may mean more regulation that could stifle free press.