Brown refuses to reveal contacts with Murdoch

James Macintyre,Andrew Grice
Monday 04 February 2008 01:00
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Gordon Brown has been accused of hypocrisy after refusing to reveal his contacts with the media magnate Rupert Murdoch, despite promising a more open approach to freedom of information.

The Prime Minister has promised to respect "the public right to know" and bring in "new rights to access public information where previously it has been withheld." Last October, he scrapped plans by Tony Blair to make Freedom of Information requests more expensive to deter more frivolous requests.

Mr Brown released details of Mr Blair's contacts with Mr Murdoch only days after becoming Prime Minister last June. But he is remaining coy about his own discussions with him.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request from The Independent asked for "details of any meetings" between Mr Murdoch and the Prime Minister. Nicholas Howard, a Downing Street official, replied to say that "we do not hold any minutes of any meetings or other interactions" between the two men. It has emerged that the two men met at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence, on the weekend of 6-7 October, when Mr Brown decided not to call a November election.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "It beggars belief that, three months on, the Prime Minister is found out to be blocking the very system of freedom of information which he praised. Gordon Brown must answer for this hypocrisy."

One cabinet minister close to Mr Brown expressed private fears that he is intent on "going the same way" as Mr Blair when it comes to his approach to Mr Murdoch.

No 10's contacts with Mr Murdoch are shrouded in secrecy. Alastair Campbell's diaries, The Blair Years, disclose that potential revelations about them deeply worried Mr Blair. Mr Campbell wrote: "TB said he didn't fear them coming at him about me, but about the relationship with Murdoch. And he didn't fancy a question about whether Murdoch lobbied him."

The Labour MP John Grogan said: "Most Labour backbenchers recognise that any prime minister is going to talk to powerful media magnates like Rupert Murdoch. What many have continued to hope, however, is that, on reflection, Gordon Brown will both be more open about these contacts than his predecessor felt able to be and also more willing to defy Mr Murdoch when it is clearly in the national interest to do so."

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