Leveson Inquiry: David Cameron 'told how to treat Rupert Murdoch

 

News International executives briefed David Cameron on "what to say and how to say it" before he met Rupert Murdoch but he "refused to play ball", the Leveson Inquiry was told today.

The Conservative leader's strategy in the early days was to treat the Murdochs and their staff the same as everyone else, according to Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator.

He recounted being told by a News International executive that Mr Cameron had been briefed on what he should say and do to please Mr Murdoch ahead of the pair's now infamously frosty first meeting.

The unnamed employee was staggered when Mr Cameron "wouldn't play ball," Mr Oborne told the inquiry into media ethics.

He added: "I thought good on him."

Mr Oborne, the author of several books on politics and the media, also claimed Fleet Street operated a Mafia-style code of silence in the face of strong evidence of phone hacking.

The press had "looked the other way" repeatedly on major stories involving itself and the government of the day, he added.

"In the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, many British newspapers remained silent on the issue of complicity in torture, British complicity in torture," he said.

Mr Oborne said there was a reluctance of one newspaper group to embarrass another and national newspapers adhered to a Mafia-style silence over hacking.

He said: "There was pretty well an omerta in Fleet Street surrounding the very strong evidence about phone hacking."

Mr Oborne criticised the close relationship between political journalists and politicians, particularly at the most senior levels.

Political reporting had become a matter of private deals with journalists and politicians "entering into a conspiracy against the readers", he said.

He said the MPs expenses "scam" was going on for years but was deliberately ignored by a negligent media.

The News International annual party conference receptions were extraordinary power events attended by the entire cabinet, he said.

He added: "I saw again and again journalists and politicians entering into a conspiracy against the readers.

"People who tried to report objectively and fairly were frozen out, were bullied, victimised, not given information.

"People who were part of the inner circle and developed social connections with the powerful political people were favoured."

Sir Harold Evans, editor of the Sunday Times from 1967 to 1981, described Mr Murdoch as "evil incarnate".

In 1981 there were a number of groups vying to take over the Sunday Times but Mr Murdoch's bid was favoured because "he was the man to take on the unions".

Sir Harold was involved in a management takeover bid and believed the Murdoch proposal would go before the monopolies commission but the deal went through in three days.

He told the inquiry that Mr Murdoch met former prime minister Margaret Thatcher ahead of the takeover, despite the businessman's denials that talks took place.

"There was a meeting on January 4 and Mrs Thatcher did a secret deal with Mr Murdoch," he said.

"It was ridiculous to suggest you can't go to the monopolies commission for the most important newspaper takeover in British history," he added.

"In three days a newspaper merger unprecedented in British history went through and it went through on falsehood and false figures."

Sir Harold feared Mr Murdoch's arrival in England would have a deteriorating effect on tabloid journalism.

The pair almost resorted to "fisticuffs" over a row about editorial content during a dinner at Sir Harold's home.

Relations became even more strained as they clashed over the stance of the paper on Mrs Thatcher's economic policies.

"Mr Murdoch was constantly sending for my staff without telling me and telling them what the paper should be," he added.

Mr Murdoch told one journalist his leader columns were too long and insisted he should be "attacking the Russians more".

Sir Harold said he eventually resigned because he was "absolutely disgusted, dismayed and demoralised by living in a vindictive, punitive atmosphere".

PA

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