David Cameron Denies Murdoch Favoritism
British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a full day’s worth of testimony on Thursday at the Leveson Inquiry on media ethics regarding whether or not he received favorable treatment from Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers.
In 2009, some months before elections, the newspapers had switched their support to Cameron’s Conservatives, who indeed prevailed in the polls. Cameron was outright dismissive that there was any covert arrangement involving “a nod and a wink.”
The inquiry also focused on his hiring of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communication director and Cameron’s handling of Murdoch’s News Corporation’s failed bid last year to gain full control of BSkyB, Britain’s biggest satellite television broadcaster.
A “Cringeworthy Text”
While Cameron will most likely “largely be relieved” about his testimony, there were plenty of what the New Statesman describes as “uncomfortable moments” especially in the form of a “cringeworthy text” sent by (twice arrested in relation to the phone hacking scandal) former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks to him on October 7, 2009, a week after The Sun had switched its support to the Conservatives.
In that text, says the Guardian,
“I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a proud friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together!” wrote Brooks. “Speech of your life! Yes he Cam!”
Brooks’s sign-off was repeated the following day in the headline on the Sun’s leader comment, heaping praise on Cameron’s speech.
Cameron insisted that Brooks’s text simply showed how his party and NI’s newspapers would be “pushing the same agenda.”
The Prime Minister was also questioned about his relationship with Brooks and how long they had been “good friends.” He noted that “we got to know each other because of her role in the media, my role in politics,” saying that their “relationship got stronger” after she married Cameron’s longtime friend, Charlie Brooks.
As the New York Times observes,
The association with Ms. Brooks has taken added dimensions since she and her husband, Charlie Brooks, appeared at a London court on Wednesday after being charged last month, along with four subordinates, with conspiring to pervert the course of justice in what prosecutors said was a cover-up of evidence related to the phone hacking scandal.
The Brookses, friends of Mr. Cameron’s in what is known as the Chipping Norton set — an upmarket social grouping in the lush Oxfordshire countryside — have denied wrongdoing. After a brief hearing on Wednesday, the court allowed the six accused to remain free on bail until another hearing on June 22.
What Did the Prime Minister Know?
In addition to queries about his relationship with Brooks, Cameron was questioned about his hiring of Coulson, who quit his post as Cameron’s communications director some months after he had started as details about the hacking scandal began to emerge. Cameron emphasized that he had “received assurances” from Coulson when he hired him that any issues concerning the hacking scandal had been resolved and emphasized that he would have fired Coulson, had he been presented with evidence that he knew about the phone hacking. But he did not, as the New Statesman observes, seek his own “independent verification,” thereby displaying either “extreme naïveté (or knavishness).”
Overall, Cameron’s questioning inquiry could have ”profound political overtones as the Labour opposition seeks to call [his] judgment into question.” Also of concern is how British culture minister Jeremy Hunt, conducted himself when he took over responsibility for oversight of the Murdoch bid for BSkyB. The opposition Labour party has been calling for an independent inquiry into whether Hunt was biased regarding the bid, as he had publicly declared his support of it in a memo to Cameron.
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