Labour accused of hypocrisy over Murdoch contacts

Mr Brown claimed his government had rebuffed attempts by the Murdoch camp to influence policy

By Andrew Grice
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:00

Labour was accused of double standards yesterday after it emerged that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown refused to disclose their contacts with the media magnate Rupert Murdoch.

Pressure from Labour during the phone-hacking controversy forced David Cameron to disclose all his meetings with media executives since last year's election – including 27 with those from the Murdoch empire.

Ed Miliband, who will disclose his own talks with media bosses since the election, has admitted that Labour got too close to the Murdoch camp during the Blair-Brown era. But he will not ask the two former prime ministers to disclose their meetings with Mr Murdoch.

While they were in power, The Independent submitted several requests under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act asking for details of their contacts with the media mogul. In 2006, Downing Street ruled that while there was a public interest in Mr Blair's dealings with Mr Murdoch, there was an overriding interest in keeping them secret so the Prime Minister could have "free and frank discussions".

Mr Brown allowed Mr Blair's contacts with Mr Murdoch to be disclosed after succeeding him in 2007. Replying to an FOI request from James Macintyre, a former Independent journalist, the Cabinet Office revealed that Mr Blair had three telephone conversations with Mr Murdoch in the nine days before the start of the Iraq war in 2003. The invasion was strongly supported by Murdoch-owned newspapers. The Cabinet Office said there were six telephone discussions between Mr Blair and Mr Murdoch in 20 months, all at crucial moments of his premiership. The subject of their calls was not revealed.

However, Mr Brown's openness did not extend to his own contacts with Mr Murdoch. Replying to another FOI request, Downing Street told The Independent that "we do not hold any minutes of any meetings or other interactions" between Mr Brown and Mr Murdoch. This was despite the News Corp chairman's visit to Chequers in October 2007 during the weekend when Mr Brown scrapped plans for a snap general election.

The Tories and Liberal Democrats have accused Mr Brown of "rewriting history" about his relationship with Mr Murdoch. In an emotional Commons speech last week, Mr Brown claimed his government had rebuffed attempts by the Murdoch camp to influence policy on issues such as the BBC and the role of the media regulator Ofcom. He accused News International of colluding with the criminal underworld and claimed it had "descended from the gutter to the sewer". His criticisms were denied by The Sun and The Sunday Times.

Mr Murdoch told a committee of MPs on Tuesday that he was advised to use the back door to Downing Street to avoid photographers when visiting both Mr Cameron and Mr Brown. He expressed regret about the breakdown of his relationship with Mr Brown, saying their wives became friends and their children played together.

A Tory spokesman said: "This is rank hypocrisy.... Gordon Brown has involved himself in the hacking story but he should be transparent about his own dealings with Mr Murdoch."

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