British PM appears before media inquiry

David Cameron faces Murdoch storm at probe into media ethics after phone-hacking scandal.

    British Prime Minister David Cameron, under fire for courting an exclusive media clique led by Rupert Murdoch, has appeared before a judicial inquiry to try and neuter claims that his ministers tailored policy to further Murdoch's interests.

    Cameron's once-cosy ties with Murdoch's inner circle have sharpened the perception that Britain has been run for years by an elite that fawned on the News Corp chairman.

    This put Cameron under pressure to pull off a virtuoso performance during Thursday's hearing at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics in London.

    But the hearing embarrassingly revealed that Rebekah Brooks, then head of Murdoch's British newspapers, told Cameron the night before a crucial political speech in 2009 that they were "professionally in this together".

    Key remarks

    Comments made by David Cameron at the inquiry led by Judge Brian Leveson.

     "Part of my evidence ... is to say that I think this relationship has been going wrong for, you know, it's never been perfect. There have always been problems. You can point to examples of [former Prime Minister Winston] Churchill putting [press tycoon] Beaverbrook as a minister, so this is, there have been issues for years.

     "But I think [in] the last 20 years the relationship has not been right, I think it has been too close, as I explained in my evidence. And I think we need to try and get it on a better footing.

     "I don't think the regulatory system we have at the moment works, and so we need to improve it."

    A text message from Brooks to Cameron, who was then in the opposition, was read out to the prime minister on live television during a grilling about his ties to News Corp.

    "I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a personal friend but because professionally we're definitely in this together. Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!" Brooks told Cameron in that message the night before his speech to the Conservative Party's annual conference.

    Testifying under oath, Cameron said Brooks had merely meant that they had a common interest because her Sun newspaper had come out in support of the Conservative Party ahead of the 2010 election.

    But the message makes excruciating reading for Cameron as "We're all in this together" was the Conservatives' campaign slogan for that election. It was meant to present the party as inclusive and caring, but the Brooks message instead reinforces the perception of a party in thrall to a powerful media clique.

    "Yes he Cam" was the Sun's headline the day after he made the 2009 speech, suggesting Brooks had decided how the newspaper would react to the speech before it was made.

    Brooks quit her News Corp job last year over phone-hacking by reporters on her watch and has since been charged with perverting the course of justice for allegedly hiding evidence.

    Britain's coalition government has divided along party lines over Cameron's backing for a minister accused of doing Murdoch's bidding when responsible for impartial oversight, as he struggles with an economy in recession and growing unease about his leadership within his own party.

    Cameron ordered the Leveson Inquiry last year at a time when he was under pressure to crack down on Murdoch's papers because of the revelation that reporters at the News of the World tabloid had hacked into the phone of a murdered schoolgirl.

    But if Cameron had hoped the inquiry might neuter the hacking scandal, it has done the opposite by producing evidence that has raised doubts about his own judgment and caused a rift with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

    The inquiry has shown generations of politicians from both of Britain's main parties, Labour and the Conservatives, have fawned over Murdoch and people close to him.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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