Rupert Murdoch fronted the Leveson Inquiry for four hours yesterday to discuss the political power that he maintains through the control of his newspapers — a concept he calls “a myth”.
“I have never asked a prime minister for anything,” declared the media mogul in his second appearance in front of the inquiry. This appearance was a far cry from the doddering old man who appeared last time. Rupert discussed his relationship with UK political leaders over 40 years, including a secret meeting with Margaret Thatcher to discuss his purchase of The Times, former PM Tony Blair being god-father to his daughter Grace, and a meeting with David Cameron on his daughter Elizabeth’s yacht in Greece in 2008.
Rupert Murdoch may be in his eighties, but he’s appearance at Leveson reflected tricks he’s been using for decades, notes Martin Dunn in The Guardian:
“Dish an outrageous quote, deliver a snippet of gossip, flash a little temper and demonstrate a disarming wit. He made his ability to manoeuvre the levers of power seem as dull as chartered accountancy. These are the tricks and techniques he has used to great effect over the decades.
Rupert has always been a master of the pregnant pause. Within News Corporation, it was a tool he used often to uncover information as executives eagerly volunteered to fill the silences. Yesterday, it was his ultimate defence; leaving the inquiry waiting interminable seconds for his next answer. There is no way Murdoch was groping for facts; it was simply a way to defuse any issue he felt uncomfortable with; brilliantly effective it proved to be too.”
Rupert also discussed former PM Gordon Brown’s anger that the Murdoch papers were no longer supporting his government. As The Independentreports:
“Mr Brown did call me and said, ‘Rupert, do you know what’s going on here?’, and I said, ‘What do you mean?’.
“He said, ‘Well the Sun and what it’s doing and how it came out’.
“And I said, ‘I am not aware of … I was not warned of the exact timing, I’m not aware of what they are saying, I am a long, long way away. But I am sorry to tell you Gordon, we have come to the conclusion that we will support a change of government when and if there is an election. Not if, but when there is an election’.
“And he said - and I must stress no voices were raised, we were talking more quietly than you and I are now - he said, ‘Well, your company has declared war on my government and we have no alternative but to make war on your company’.
“And I said, ‘I’m sorry about that Gordon, thank you for calling’, and end of subject.”
Asked by counsel for the inquiry how Mr Brown might have “made war” on his company, Mr Murdoch said he did not know, but added: “I did not think he was in a very balanced state of mind.”
Brown immediately released a statement calling Murdoch’s claims “wholly wrong”.
Former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans rebuts many of Rupert’s claims in The Guardian:
“There is the great scene he pitched to Lord Justice Leveson on Wednesday morning where the editor of the Times enters left, closes the door behind him and begs: “Look, tell me what you want to say, what do you want me to say, and it need not leave this room and I’ll say it.” And our hero proprietor, so famously fastidious about such matters, has to tell Uriah Heep: “That is not my job.”
And thus, children, was how Mr KR Murdoch honoured the promises of editorial independence that enabled him to avoid the Monopolies and Mergers Commission over his bid for Times Newspapers in 1981. As the editor in question, I am not able to compete with Murdoch in fabrication – he has had a lifetime of experience – but I do happen to have retained my memory of the year editing the Times, made notes, kept documents and even had the effrontery to write a whole bestselling book about it in 1983, called Good Times, Bad Times.
It has gone unchallenged for 30 years in its detailed account of precisely how Murdoch did break all five of the crucial pledges, did press for adopting his rightwing views, did want to know why we reported the Treasury statistics that the recession continued when the government had previously said it had ended.”
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is now battling for his political career after News Corp released hundreds of emails and documents sent between Hunt’s special advisor Adam Smith and a News Corp lobbyist. Several were read out at the Leveson Inquiry, reportsThe Independent:
“One email quoted Mr Hunt saying “we’d get there in the end” and that he “shared” News Corp’s objective of taking over the broadcaster.
Another email, sent by News Corp’s lobbyist the day before Mr Hunt made a statement to Parliament on the bid, drew gasps when it was read out at the Leveson Inquiry: “Managed to get some infos on the plans for tomorrow (although absolutely illegal.”
Smith resigned overnight. The UK stock market watchdog will now investigate if the emails breached market abuse regulations.
Hunt has now requested that his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry now be heard as soon as possible. “I am totally confident that when I present my evidence, the public will see that I conducted this process with scrupulous fairness throughout,” he said in a statement. But Lord Leveson rejected the call and Hunt won’t appear until at least mid May.
James Murdoch, who took the stand at Leveson the day before his dad, also revealed that he had discussed News Corp’s BSkyB plan with Prime Minister David Cameron over dinner at the home of Rebekah Brooks, the former-News of the World editor and News International executive. This contradicts Cameron’s previous claim that he was never involved in any negotiations in the BSkyB deal.
The appearance of the Murdochs at this inquiry is important not just because it makes for great television, writes Martin Kettle in The Guardian:
“Jousting with the Murdochs at the Leveson inquiry is not just media entertainment. It is also a large political milestone and victory. Together with the appearance in front of the Commons media select committee last year, these events mark the first time that the Murdoch dynasty has ever been compelled to account for itself to the system of democratic government that it does so much to influence.”