No pact with Rupert Murdoch, says Tony Blair

 

Tony Blair denied today doing any deals with Rupert Murdoch in return for the support of his newspapers.

The former prime minister defended his relationship with Mr Murdoch at the Leveson Inquiry claiming they only became close friends once he left Downing Street.

Mr Blair, who became godfather to Mr Murdoch's daughter Grace in 2010, insisted the media tycoon never "lobbied him for special favours".

His evidence was interrupted by a protester who burst into courtroom 73 from a secure corridor and accused Mr Blair of being a "war criminal". The former Labour leader remained composed as the man was led off by security guards and the session continued.

During his decade in office Mr Blair said he simply had a "working relationship" with Mr Murdoch.

Mr Blair said: "I know Rupert Murdoch and his family far better today than I did when I was Prime Minister.

"I would never have become godfather to their child on the basis of my relationship in Government where meetings with Rupert Murdoch tended to be very much politics oriented and I knew the rest of the family only a little at that time."

He added: "It was a relationship about power. I find these relationships are not personal, they are working, to me."

Mr Blair said he had probably been closer to Ms Brooks too once he had left office, "when we were free from the constraints and it wasn't a relationship about the power relationship".

And he defended his decision to send her a message of support after the phone hacking scandal erupted last summer, saying he was "not a fair weather friend".

He told the hearing: "Certainly I said I was very sorry for what had happened to her...I've seen people go through this situation and I know what it's like."

Mr Blair insisted he had never agreed to any pact with any media organisation. "There was no deal on issues to do with the media with Rupert Murdoch, or indeed, anybody else, either expressed or implied and to be fair, he never sought such a thing."

He added: "When it came to the specific issue in relation to the Murdoch media group, we more often decided against them than in favour."

"Rupert Murdoch never lobbied me for special favours. What he did do was argue strongly with me about politics. He has decided views. On some issues, I agreed and on some I disagree."

He never changed his policies to please the Murdoch press, he insisted, and had stuck to what he believed in on issues ranging from the trade unions to Europe. "I don't know a policy that we changed as a result of Rupert Murdoch," he said.

Mr Blair told the inquiry once the press turned against him it was "full frontal, day in, day out, basically a lifetime commitment."

"Rupert Murdoch never lobbied me for special favours. What he did do was argue strongly with me about politics. He has decided views. On some issues, I agreed and on some I disagree."

He told how wife Cherie was subjected to a "personal vendetta", claiming while some comment was "legitimate" at times the criticism was taken "too far".

The Leveson Inquiry heard how it was "unhealthy" that certain parts of the media used newspapers as "instruments of political power".

But he admitted that Labour had made a strategic decision not to tackle the problem. "I'm just being open about that and open about the fact that, frankly, I decided as a political leader that I was going to manage that and not confront it."

After almost two decades in the political wilderness with Labour leaders subjected to ridicule in the popular press Mr Blair told the Inquiry he was determined to foster better relations with the media.

He admitted he had "flown half way round the world" to Hayman Island, Australia, to meet Mr Murdoch and News Corporation executives when he was Labour leader in 1995, in the hope of persuading the organisation against "tearing us to pieces".

Mr Blair said that in 2001 he had asked Mr Murdoch whether his newspapers would support Labour - and could not see anything wrong in doing that.

"I think I would have done that for any major group," said Mr Blair. "I cannot recall ever doing that specifically with other groups."

He added: "I don't think there is anything wrong with asking them whether they are going to support you.

"What is obviously different is if you are conditioning that in some way."

He said phone hacking was "evidently going on" while he was in office.

He added: "The allegation by the Mail that I tried to pressure Tom Watson to end his campaign against News International is completely and totally untrue."

Mr Blair denied New Labour had run a press operation that used bullying tactics and favouritism to manipulate journalists.

Pressed by leading counsel Robert Jay QC over why a "mythology" had built up around him over use of the "dark arts", he insisted he "hated" that type of politics.

"I have never authorised or said to someone go out and brief against this person or that person," he said.

"I hate that type of stuff. It's the lowest form of politics."

Mr Blair called for newspapers to separate out fact from comment, warning there was now a "violent and aggressive genre of attack".

He added: "It's a very pessimistic view of the world that says you can't make the news interesting unless you distort it."

He did not rule out supporting future proposals for a statutory system of press regulation.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'