John Whittingdale: I am not too close to Murdochs

John Whittingdale, who will be in the chair when MPs question Rupert and James Murdoch tomorrow, had to fend off accusations yesterday that he was too close to the pair.

The Conservative chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee defended his contacts with Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, two senior figures in the Murdoch empire who have resigned over the hacking scandal.

The Independent on Sunday revealed yesterday that Mr Whittingdale is the only MP among 386 "friends" listed on Ms Brooks' Facebook page or among Mr Hinton's 93 "friends".

Mr Whittingdale defended himself on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show.

"I have 570 friends on Facebook. Whether or not Rebekah Brooks is still one of them, I rather doubt it, since I have summoned her to appear before me," he said. "I have been doing the culture, media and sport brief in one capacity or another for 10 years.

"I've met almost every major figure in the media. This story appeared in The Independent on Sunday. I've met [The Independent's proprietor] Mr Alexander Lebedev. He's not a Facebook friend, but that's probably because he's not on Facebook."

Mr Whittingdale indicated that the Murdochs will appear before the committee without Ms Brooks, who quit on Friday as chief executive of News International. After her arrest yesterday, there is a question over whether she will appear, but if she does, she will be questioned separately.