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Never asked any UK PM any favour: Murdoch

April 25, 2012 20:34 IST

Media baron Rupert Murdoch Wednesday defended his interaction with several British prime ministers at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics, insisting it was a "myth" that he asked them for favours to further his commercial interests.

A key player in British politics and news media, Murdoch, 81, sought to play down his influence in politics, but admitted having several formal and informal meetings and conversations with prime ministers since the last 1960s when he bought News of the World tabloid.

"I never asked a prime minister for anything. It is a myth that I used the supposed political power to get favours", Murdoch repeated several times while responding to forensic questioning by the inquiry counsel, Robert Jay.

The evidence by his son, James Murdoch, on Tuesday caused a stir in political circles, with Adam Smith, an aide to Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, resigning on Wednesday after 163 pages of emails indicated proximity between Hunt's office and News Corp on the issue of the withdrawn BSkyB takeover bid.

Hunt resisted pressure to resign by stating in the House of Commons that he "strictly followed due process" in the way he handled the bid, and claimed that it was "categorically" not true that he acted as a "back channel" for the company rather than being impartial.

During Prime Minister's Questions, Labour leader Ed Miliband accused Hunt of "colluding with News Corp to provide them with information in advance" and "hatching a plan" to make sure it would be "game over" for opponents of the takeover bid.

On his meetings with prime ministers, Murdoch said in his witness statement: "I can say that, to the best of my memory, these meetings were typically initiated either by the politician or by a third party.

"It is simply not possible for me now to recount with any precision what was discussed at any particular meeting, although I have noted above some of the topics I am confident we did discuss".

He added: "However, I am by nature a curious person and am sure we discussed additional topics. What I can say is that, typically, the prime ministers have been interested in discussing their views about challenges facing the country (and them) and how the government plans to address them; issues and conditions facing other countries and how leaders in those countries are addressing them; and, News Corporation's views or my personal views on what is going on around the globe".

In a key moment in his evidence, Murdoch revealed that former Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared "war" on his company after one of his titles, The Sun, openly extended support to the Conservative party in September 2009.

At the time, Brown was the prime minister, and struggling to retain his and his party's popularity in the face of forthcoming elections in 2010.

Brown was also facing unrest within the Labour party at the time. The Labour party lost the election in 2010.

The Sun's endorsement of a political party before elections is considered influential to the outcome of elections.

The mass circulation tabloid had supported the Labour party in 1997, when Blair came to power.

Murdoch said he always had "warm relations" with Brown and regretted that the relationship broke down after The Sun supported the Conservative party, which upset Brown.

The two had an uneasy phone conversation about the tabloid's support.

Recounting the phone conversation with Brown, Murdoch said: "He [Brown] said, and I must stress no voices were raised, he said: 'well, your company has declared war on my government and we have no alternative to make war on your company'.

"I said 'I'm sorry about that Gordon, thank you for calling' and that was that".

Murdoch claimed that Brown was "not in a balanced state of mind" at the time, but denied reports that Brown "roared" at him during the conversation.

According to Murdoch, Brown made a "totally outrageous" statement during the phone-hacking debate last summer, when he called News International a "criminal organisation".

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