BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron is likely to be summoned to give evidence to the Leveson inquiry into media ethics about his relationship with Rupert Murdoch and senior figures from News International who are being investigated for phone hacking.
The Times reported that a source close to the inquiry said Lord Justice Leveson was “99.9 per cent certain” to call the Prime Minister to be questioned under oath about his meetings with newspaper editors and proprietors.
“I can’t see how you can look at the relationship between the press and politicians without talking to top politicians, including the Prime Minister, the previous prime minister and the Leader of the Opposition,” the source said.
But the final decision had not yet been made as the inquiry was looking first at press dealings with the public and police.
Mr Cameron’s office responded to the report by saying “of course he would attend”, but that no request had been received yet.
The Prime Minister would probably face questions about his decision to hire Andy Coulson, a former editor of News of the World, as his spokesman, despite stories in The Guardian claiming that phone hacking was rife under his editorship.
He might also be asked about his 26 meetings with News executives and his relationship with former chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, who was arrested and bailed over phone hacking in July. Last week Vanity Fair reported that he was so close to her that he signed his letters to her with “love David”.
On Monday, the inquiry was told that former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown threatened to “destroy” News International during a furious phone call to Rupert Murdoch after The Sun switched its support to the Conservatives.
A former editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, said Mr Murdoch told him Mr Brown had called him and “roared at me for 20 minutes”, saying: “You are trying to destroy me and my party. I will destroy you and your company.”
The Sun had not run Mr Brown’s 2009 keynote speech to the Labour Party on the front page and had declared that “Labour’s lost it”. News International declined to comment. A spokesman for Mr Brown said: “It has already been pointed out that there was no such phone call nor communication between Mr Brown and Mr Murdoch.”
Mr MacKenzie also told of a legendary conversation he had with Conservative prime minister John Major. He said Mr Major phoned him in September 1992 when he was seeking support for suspending the country’s membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. He asked how the paper would cover the move the next day. Mr MacKenzie said he told him: “I’ve got a bucket of shit on my desk, sir, and I’m going to pour it all over you.”
Mr MacKenzie told the inquiry: “Why you would call up the editor of The Sun in the middle of an economic crisis? I’ve got no idea.”
Mr MacKenzie said Mr Murdoch took a “hands-on approach” to his British newspapers and once gave him “40 minutes of non-stop abuse” after the paper paid a £1 million settlement to Elton John.
In 1987 the paper had falsely reported that the singer had paid for sex with under-age “rent boys”.
“Murdoch thought I’d gone too far . . . It wasn’t the money, of course — it was the shadow over the paper.”
The Sun’s current editor, Dominic Mohan, said in a written statement that he had “always been determined to foster a culture of honesty, integrity and high ethical standards at The Sun”. Showbiz editor Gordon Smart said Sun staff “act ethically and we act responsibly at all times”.
First published at theage.com.au.