Murdoch denies seeking help from politicians he met


“I HAVE never asked a prime minister for anything,” Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, told the Leveson inquiry into press standards last night.
Questioned about a lunch he had had with the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, he denied its purpose had been to show her he was “on the same page” as her politically, or that the tacit understanding was that she would then help him with his bid to buy the Times newspapers.
“No, I didn’t expect any help from her, nor did I ask for anything,” Mr Murdoch said. He denied he had wanted the lunch partly because he was concerned the bid might be delayed if it were referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission: “That didn’t worry me in the least.”
After a pause he agreed he was “on the same page politically” as the then US president-elect Ronald Reagan and Mrs Thatcher.
But he denied the proposition by Robert Jay, QC, that the purpose of the lunch was to demonstrate “how very much you were ‘one of us’?” He said the purpose was to explain to Mrs Thatcher what was at stake in his bid for one of Britain’s iconic assets.
He strongly denied rumours that he had not forgiven the Prime Minister, David Cameron, for setting up the Leveson inquiry: “Untrue”.
He said he welcomed the inquiry and the opportunity to “put some myths to bed”.
Mr Murdoch was appearing in his first day of evidence before the inquiry, which is looking at the relationship between media proprietors and politicians.
He said of the power relationship between editors and proprietors: “Let’s face it – if an editor is sending a newspaper broke it is the responsibility of the proprietor to step in for the sake of the journalists, for the sake of everybody … and particularly his responsibility to his many thousands of shareholders.”
Meanwhile, Mr Cameron was continuing to resist demands to sack one of his ministers after evidence on Monday from Mr Murdoch’s son James about routine leaks from the government during News Corporation’s bid to take over the satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
The Opposition Leader, Ed Miliband, said the evidence showed the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the final arbiter of whether the takeover should be allowed, had given “advice, guidance and privileged access” to News Corporation and acted “as a back channel for the Murdochs”.
Mr Hunt denies the claims, saying he behaved with complete integrity while overseeing the £8 billion proposal. It was for Mr Hunt to decide whether it should be referred to the Competition Commission, which the Murdochs were keen to avoid.
The inquiry had heard the leaks included information about a statement Mr Hunt was to make on how he wanted to negotiate with News Corporation. On January 24 last year, James Murdoch, then the chief executive of News International, received an email from an employee crowing that he had “managed to get some infos [sic] on the plans for tomorrow (although absolutely illegal!)” The email set out the timetable for Mr Hunt’s announcement and quoted from it.
This and other evidence related to extracts from 163 pages of emails James Murdoch had received from Fred Michel, News Corp’s director of public affairs for Europe, during the Sky bid. The emails detailed alleged communications with Mr Hunt, many of them through Mr Hunt’s adviser Adam Smith.
Last night Mr Smith stepped down from his role. He said in a statement: “I appreciate that my activities at times went too far.”
The emails indicated Mr Hunt was not independent and already supported the Murdoch bid. Mr Michel told Mr Murdoch that Mr Hunt “said we would get there in the end and shared our objectives” and that the minister wanted Mr Murdoch “to understand he needs to build some political cover on the process”.
Mr Hunt’s aides said Mr Michel had exaggerated the degree of contact he had with the minister’s office. They said evidence given to the inquiry was inaccurate and meetings and messages that had been claimed had never happened. Mr Hunt planned to ask Justice Leveson if he could appear before the inquiry to defend himself. Mr Cameron said Mr Hunt, who has been dubbed “the minister for Murdoch”, had his full confidence.
Mr Miliband demanded Mr Hunt’s resignation: “If he refuses to resign, the Prime Minister must show some leadership and fire him.”

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.