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After the three police investigations and thirty arrests that resulted from the News International scandal, the United Kingdom has begun a media ethics trial to investigate the influence and ethical issues surrounding the media. The previous criminal trial began after Murdoch’s tabloid “News of the World” hacked a kidnap-murder victim’s phone and the emails and phones of war veterans and their families.
The former British Prime Minister John Major – Conservative party premier from 1990 to 1997 – testified at the media ethics trial, known as the Leveson inquiry after Lord Justice Leveson was appointed to oversee the evidence.
Major claimed that Rupert tried to influence the government interactions with the European Union by asking Major at a private dinner to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union; Major refused.
Murdoch told the inquiry on 25 of April that he “[has] never asked a prime minister for anything.” Major responded that he assumes Murdoch meant, “he [Murdoch] has never asked for anything that would benefit him personally or his company…in my very limited contact with Mr. Murdoch his statement is on a strict interpretation literally true.”
Major went on to explain for what Murdoch seemed to ask. “Certainly he never asked for anything directly from me but he was not averse to pressing for policy changes. In the run-up to the 1997 general election in my third and last meeting with him on 2 February 1997 he made it clear that he disliked my European policies which he wished me to change.”
According to the former Prime Minister, Murdoch made the implication that if Major did not change his European policies the prime minister would lose the support of Murdoch’s media networks. Major stated, “so far as I recall he made no mention of editorial independence but referred to all his papers as ‘we’…Both Mr. Murdoch and I kept our word. I made no change in policy and Mr. Murdoch’s titles did indeed oppose the Conservative party. It came as no surprise to me when soon after our meeting the Sun newspaper announced its support for Labour.”
Shortly after the private dinner party where this conversation took place Murdoch’s two major papers backed Tony Blair in the 1997 general election; Blair won the election three months later.
News International, Murdoch’s news corporation, has since issued a statement in regards to Major’s comments. “News International titles did not act in unison in the 1997 election. The Sunday Times supported John Major, the Times was neutral, and the Sun and the News of the World supported Labour.”
Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have also testified at the inquiry about their relationship with the media mogul. Brown claimed that Murdoch’s papers undermined the British government’s efforts in Afghanistan.
Major made several comments about the influence of Murdoch and his media empire. “I do think parts of his press, parts of his media empire have lowered the general quality of the British media…I think the interaction that there has been with politicians has done no good either to the press or to the politicians.
“I think the sheer scale of the influence he is believed to [have] whether he exercises it or not, is an unattractive facet in British national life, and it does seem to me an oddity that in a nation which prides itself on one man, one vote, we should have one man, who can’t vote, with a large collection of newspapers and a large share of the electronic media outlets.”
Major claims that he has not talked about the conversation with Murdoch in the last fifteen years but since he was under oath at the inquiry he was bound by law and his word to talk about it.
Major and Murdoch also had meetings in 1992 and 1993 although neither party remembers what was discussed at those meetings. Murdoch claims that he does not remember the conversation at the private dinner with Major in 1997.
Before the meeting in 1993 Major’s press secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, sent out a memo stating that Murdoch has “made matters worse” and his papers “ceased to make rational criticisms of policy and are now simply anti-everything and [Major] in particular.”
Image Courtesy of david_shankbone