LONDON –- In the hot seat before a judge, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday that there was never either an explicit or implicit deal in which his Conservative Party offered favors to media mogul Rupert Murdoch in return for the support of his newspapers.
"The idea of overt deals is nonsense," Cameron testified in a London courtroom. "I also don't believe in this theory that there was sort of a nod and a wink and some sort of covert agreement."
The British leader's comments came during the first part of his daylong appearance before a judge-led inquiry into media ethics. The inquiry was initiated by Cameron himself in the wake of Britain's phone-hacking scandal, which has rocked the political and media establishment here with its exposure of illegal news-gathering practices at Murdoch-owned newspapers and of extremely cozy relations between politicians and journalists.
Cameron's testimony was highly anticipated. Much of the scrutiny brought on by the hacking scandal has focused on his relationship with high-ranking executives at News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch's giant News Corp., especially his friendship with Rebekah Brooks, the former head of News International.
Brooks has been arrested and posted bail on charges of obstructing justice in the police investigation into industrial-scale phone hacking at the News of the World, the sensation-seeking weekly tabloid she once edited. Revelations last year that the paper tapped into the voicemail of a kidnapped teenager who was later found slain caused Murdoch to shut down the tabloid.
Cameron reiterated his acknowledgment that British politicians, including many from his party, had become too close to Murdoch's news organizations. Lawmakers of all stripes have curried the media magnate's favor, both in the hope of earning his newspapers' endorsement and in the fear of being targeted by them in smear or muckraking campaigns.
When he was still leader of the opposition, Cameron flew to a Greek island where Murdoch was vacationing, in a effort to get to know him.
But he denied that there was anything improper in their subsequent relationship or that any quid pro quo was involved. News Corp. has long wanted to take over British satellite broadcaster BSkyB, and until the company dropped its bid because of the hacking scandal, Cameron’s government was on track to decide whether a takeover would violate anti-monopoly regulations.
"Of course all businesses have their interests and the rest of it, but in my dealings with Rupert Murdoch, most of the conversation has been about big international political issues," Cameron said.
He declared that the time had come for a new modus vivendi for the pillars of British democratic society.
"This is a ... cathartic moment where press, politicians, police, all the relationships that haven't been right, we have a chance to reset them," Cameron said. "That is what we must do."
-- Henry Chu
Photo: British Prime Minister David Cameron testifies in London at a judge-led inquiry on press ethics. Credit: Associated Press