Rupert Murdoch is a "force of nature" and a "phenomenon", a cabinet minister said today as he defended the media mogul's record in British journalism.
Education Secretary Michael Gove, a former Times journalist, said he thought Mr Murdoch was a "great man" who had saved the UK newspaper industry when he moved the Times to Wapping.
He claimed he knew nothing about phone hacking, even when he was a news editor for 18 months at the newspaper, telling a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Manchester that he was as "surprised as anyone" about allegations at the News of the World.
Mr Gove admitted that he was not speaking from the "majority position" but insisted that the practice of breaking into private voicemails "breaches every journalistic rule in the book".
"I am a great admirer of Rupert Murdoch," he told activists.
"I think he is a force of nature and a phenomenon. I think he is a great man. I know that at the moment, for obvious reasons, there are aspects of what happened at News International that are under the spotlight. What is alleged to have happened, it goes without saying, breaches every journalistic rule in the book.
"However, I don't think you can look at this episode and all the questions that it has raised, without looking into the context of all of Rupert Murdoch's career.
"The Times and The Sunday Times wouldn't exist if he hadn't saved them. Newspapers wouldn't have survived in the way that they have done if he hadn't taken the decision to take The Times to Wapping.
"The investment he has made in quality journalism has meant that as a result we have a flourishing collection of broadsheets and we also have vigourous tabloids which hold people like me to account.
"It is also the case that his investment in Sky, it's not my first love but it is worth acknowledging, has helped to revive Premier League football in this country and it has also meant that there is a greater degree of pluralism and choice in broadcasting.
"I know that (to speak up) for Rupert Murdoch is to be like a Tory in Scotland in the 1980s, not a majority position. But, I think that any judgment of what he has contributed to this country has to take into account those things."
He said Mr Murdoch devoted a disproportionate amount of time and energy to his UK stable of newspapers, adding that he "loved" journalism.
But in a wide-ranging interview with Channel 4's political editor Gary Gibbon, Mr Gove admitted he regularly met the chairman of News Corporation.
He added: "I was I think as surprised as anyone by the revelations around phone-hacking. I was a news editor, not a particularly successful one, for 18 months and so I was there at the heart of the newsroom at the Times. But I was completely unaware of this practice, how it could be executed or what it amounted to until the stories that started being written in the course of the last year or two."