In his testimony to the UK’s Leveson Inquiry on media ethics, organized in the wake of last year’s phone hacking scandal, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown disputed statements made by Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the tabloids News of the World and of The Sun and the former CEO of News International, the British newspaper publishing arm of News Corporation.
Brown rejected The Sun‘s coverage of Britain’s war effort in Afghanistan from 2007 – 2010. The newspaper’s coverage of the war was focused on “not what we had done but that I personally did not care about our troops,” said Brown.
In addition, he directly disputed testimony that Brooks had made earlier this year, when she said that Brown’s wife Sarah had given her paper permission to publish an article about the Browns’ infant son Fraser having a diagnosis of cystic fibrosis. Brown denied that his wife had ever given Brooks permission to publish the article:
I don’t think any child’s medical information should be broadcast,” he said. “There was no question ever of implicit or explicit permission.
As the New York Times notes, comments immediately appeared on Twitter denying Brown’s statements after he had made them. But the board of Fife National Health Service (NHS) had admitted that it is “highly likely” that a staff member had leaked the story to the media. Brooks herself had said that the story was told to The Sun by the father of a child who has had cystic fibrosis. But Brown dismissed this story as a “fiction,” saying in a statement that
Despite what has been said to the inquiry under oath, explicit permission was neither sought nor granted (nor would have been granted) for the publication of a story about my second son’s medical condition, and I am sorry to say that even now the Sun newspaper have not been honest with the truth of how private, personal medical knowledge that could have been known only to a small group of medical professionals apart from our immediate family and which my son had a right to expect would remain confidential was obtained and authenticated.
This breach of privacy has especially rankled me, myself the mother a child with a serious health condition, autism, and various types of abnormal brain activity. I have been quite public about his diagnosis, having been blogging daily about Charlie since 2005 but I keenly remember the confusion, panic and worry of the months when he was just being diagnosed and we were trying to figure out how to help him. This was information divulged very carefully, at first only to our closest family members and a very few friends, and then only very haltingly to others. While most of us are not, of course, highly public figures like Brown and his wife, I do think many of us can empathize with such a breach of privacy, and all the more as the Browns had lost a daughter four and a half years prior.
That such a breach occurred seems not unlikely in light of some of Brown’s other testimony. He flat-out said that a key conversation mentioned by Murdoch (about Brown saying he would “make war on your company,” i.e., News International) had “never” taken place.” Brown said that he was all out “shocked, surprised, that it should be suggested.”
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