Blair admits being too close to Murdoch
LONDON FORMER British prime minister Tony Blair told a press ethics inquiry on Monday that he got too close to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, in evidence disrupted by a protester calling him a ‘war criminal’.
A middle-aged man burst into the courtroom where the Leveson Inquiry is held and shouted “this man should be arrested for war crimes” while Blair was speaking, before being hustled out.
The reference was to Blair’s decision to take Britain to war in Iraq and Afghanistan during his time in office from 1997 until 2007.
Judge Brian Leveson, who is heading the inquiry, apologised to Blair and immediately ordered an investigation into how the man had gained access to a ‘secure corridor’ into the courtroom.
In his evidence, Blair, who is godfather to one of Rupert Murdoch’s children, was asked about his close relationship with the media baron whose tabloid The Sun — Britain’s top-selling newspaper — gave Blair its backing.
Blair said he had made a strategic decision not to take on the power of the press during his time in office, despite calls for tougher media regulation following the death of Diana, princess of Wales in 1997.
He said he had taken care to court the press because if media groups had turned against him, it would have been a “huge and sustained attack”.
Asked whether he had got too close to Murdoch’s News International, he replied: “Yes.” But he added, “I don’t know a policy that we changed as a result of Rupert Murdoch. Part of my job was to manage this situation so that we didn’t get into a position where we were changing policy.” The biggest problem in the British press, he said, was blurred lines between news and comment in some papers, where reporting becomes an ‘instrument of political power’.
Blair, now a Middle East peace envoy, identified The Sun and the right-wing Daily Mail, owned by Associated Newspapers, as Britain’s most powerful newspapers.
“Once they are against you, that’s it. It’s full frontal, day in, day out; basically a lifetime commitment,” he said.