Gordon Brown accused the Sun of carrying out a vendetta against him during his last years as Prime Minister.
Appearing before the Leveson Inquiry, he said the Sun had repeatedly twisted reports on the war on Afghanistan to make it look as if he did not care about British troops.
In a trenchant performance, he vigorously defended his record on media regulation and singled out for attack the Sun and Rupert Murdoch. However, he said he regretted not having reformed the lobby system for political reporting.
His son's illness
Mr Brown was angriest when discussing the Sun’s reporting of his son’s genetic disorder - and the newspaper’s treatment of him over the Afghan war.
In November 2006, the Sun splashed on an exclusive that four-month-old Fraser had cystic fibrosis. Last summer it denied Mr Brown’s suggestion that it had obtained the story by dubious means, insisting it had come from a member of the public. Mr Brown produced a letter from Fife NHS trust saying that it was now “highly likely” that a staff member had spoken about the story without authorisation, although there was no evidence medical records had been inappropriate accessed. Mr Brown vehemently denied the Sun’s claimed that he had approved the story. “I ask you, if any mother or any father was presented with a choice as to whether a four month-old son’s medical condition should be broadcast on the front-page of a tabloid newspaper and you had a choice in this matter, I don’t think there is any parent in the land would have made the choice that we are told we made.” The inquiry’s lawyer, Robert Jay, pointed out that his wife had organised a birthday party for the Sun’s editor Rebekah Brooks at Chequers in June 2008, after the story was published. Mr Brown said his wife was a “forgiving” character. (News International responded: “We welcome the fact that NHS Fife have today said that they believe there was ‘no inappropriate access’ to the medical records of Gordon Brown’s son.”
On Afghanistan, Mr Brown said that Britain’s best-selling daily newspaper had wrongly accused him of not bowing at the Cenotaph, of sleeping at a remembrance service and of making mistakes in a letter of condolence sent to the mother of a soldier killed in the war. He described News International’s behaviour as “offensive.”
The former Labour leader strongly denied having “declared war” on News Corp after the Sun switched support to the Conservatives in September 2009. Mr Brown produced a list of incoming and outgoing calls from Downing Street, covering both landlines and mobile phone, which showed that the only phone conversation he had with Rupert Murdoch was on 10 November 2010. Then, Mr Brown said they only discussed Afghanistan. “This conversation never took place,” Mr Brown said. “I’m shocked and surprised it should be suggested… All my conversations with Mr Murdoch were perfectly civilised and were courteous.” A News Corporation spokesperson said "Rupert Murdoch stands behind his testimony."
Mr Brown accused James Murdoch of aggressively pursuing its commercial agenda with politicians. He said News Corp wanted to “neuter” the BBC by cutting the licence fee and restricting its involvement in the internet, shrivel Ofcom, and ensure more sports rights went to BSkyB. He said: “It became very clear in the summer of 2009 that News International had a highly politicised agenda for changes in the medoa policy of this country.”
There was a need for tougher regulation to defend families like the Dowlers who were abused by the press, the former Labour leader. While Lord Leveson had asked the question: ‘Who guards the guardians?’ he wanted to ask: ‘who defends the defenceless?” He also said any new system should reward good journalism as well as punish bad behaviour and hinted that the BBC licence fee could be spread more widely, not just among broadcasters other than the BBC but also possibly to newspapers struggling in the digital age. He regretted not reforming the lobby system, which he suggested catered for an elite of political reporters. He complained: "If you announced something to Parliament or announced it in a speech it would not be reported.” He denied ordering his spin doctors to drip poison into the ears of journalists about his political opponents. Asked whether he had authorised selective anonymous briefings by his spokesmen Charlie Whelan and Damien McBride (who were both forced to resign), he said: “No, I wouldn’t say that at all.”