MEDIA magnate Rupert Murdoch was not an ”Identikit right-wing person” or a ”sort of tribal Tory”, former prime minister Tony Blair told the Leveson inquiry in London last night.”There are bits of him that are more anti-establishment, sort of meritocratic, I would say,” Mr Blair said.
He said he never felt under pressure to help with the commercial interests of the Murdochs or any other media proprietors.
”We decided more stuff against Murdoch interests than in favour of it. Did that mean they changed their support for me? No, it didn’t, in fact. Even though there were things they really didn’t like.”
Mr Blair testified he made a strategic decision not to take on the British media over their excesses when he became prime minister but instead ”assuaged and persuaded” them because the Labour Party had just spent 18 years in opposition.
He said of that time: ”You certainly [did] fear the power being directed at you”, particularly the papers that would wage campaigns against politicians not just in their opinion pages but through the slanting of news stories.
He flew to Hayman Island to address News Corp executives in 1995 as part of a Labour strategy to gain a hearing with newspapers that had savaged previous leaders Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock.
It emerged in 2010 that he formed a close-enough relationship with Mr Murdoch to become godfather of one of the media tycoon’s children.
Asked whether he got too close to News International, he said he became closer to Mr Murdoch once he left office and that was the point at which he became godfather to one of the media tycoon’s children. “The relationship became a lot easier and better ? I would never have become godfather to one of the children [while I was in office].”
He noted three phone calls with Mr Murdoch in the run-up to the Iraq war in March 2003, totalling no more than 45 minutes, in which he ”probably” asked about the positions of the US and Australia. ”But no, I wouldn’t have been asking him about press coverage.”
Mr Blair led the Labour Party for 13 years, 10 of them as prime minister. His appearance came at the start of a high-profile week for the Leveson inquiry into the press, which is looking at the relationships between the media and politicians.
Embattled Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is due to give evidence on Thursday and is likely to be grilled over his handling of the Murdoch bid last year for a complete takeover of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
First published on theage.com.au