LONDON -- Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown denied Monday that he had ever “declared war” on media mogul Rupert Murdoch's company after learning that its popular tabloid the Sun would not be supporting his 2010 election campaign.
Speaking to a civil inquiry into media standards and ethics in Britain, Brown attacked the coverage by Murdoch's tabloid of his term as prime minister from 2007 to 2010. He accused Murdoch of misleading the panel about an alleged conversation about political support.
“This conversation never took place,” Brown said. “I’m shocked and surprised that it should be suggested.”
Murdoch told the same inquiry in April that Brown had reacted with anger when the media chief told him the high-circulation Sun would back the opposition Conservative Party in May 2010 elections. Brown, who led the Labor Party at the time, answered by threatening his company with “war,” Murdoch said. Some news reports said Brown then slammed the phone down.
“There was no such conversation. I never asked them for support directly,” Brown told the panel. “I'm surprised that first of all there's a story that I slammed the phone down, and secondly that there’s a story from Mr. Murdoch himself that I threatened him. This did not happen.”
The inquiry was launched by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of a phone hacking scandal that has roiled British media for several years.
A News Corp. statement reportedly supports Murdoch’s testimony to the inquiry.
Brown also accused the Sun of publishing damaging reports about his leadership of the British war effort in Afghanistan. Stories included allegations that he was disrespectful by failing to bow during an memorial ceremony and that he misspelled the name of a soldier killed in action when writing to the victim’s mother.
“I still feel huge damage was done to the war effort by the suggestion we didn't care about our troops,” he said.
He also denied granting permission for the paper to print news that his son had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. “I don't think there's any parent in the land who would have given permission for this story to be published,” he said with emotion.
Brown took over the premiership from Tony Blair in 2007 but was ousted in the 2010 elections, which led to a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government headed by Cameron.
Later on Monday, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne appeared before the panel and dismissed reports of aiding News International, the British arm of Murdoch’s empire, with its bid to gain a controlling share of the broadcasting company BSkyB.
Osborne said he saw the bidding process more as a “political inconvenience” that was going to cause trouble and antagonism, no matter which media group ended up in control of the broadcasting company.
Questioned on the government hiring of Andy Coulson, a former editor of the Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World, as the prime minister’s press secretary, Osborne told the inquiry that Coulson was chosen for his “professional experience.”
Coulson had resigned as editor from the tabloid after one of his journalists was convicted in the hacking of phones connected with the British royal family in 2007. He has since been arrested again in connection with illegal phone hacking carried out during his editorship.
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and wife Sarah leave after giving evidence at an inquiry into media ethics in London on Monday. Credit: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images