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8:52pm UK, Wednesday April 25, 2012
Former prime minister Gordon Brown has called on Rupert Murdoch to correct the details he gave on oath to the Leveson inquiry of a 2009 phone call between them.
The media tycoon told the inquiry that Mr Brown had phoned him in 2009 after The Sun’s switch to backing the Tories in the next election.
Mr Murdoch claimed the then PM said: “Well, your company has declared war on my government and we have no alternative but to make war on your company.”
But Mr Brown said that Mr Murdoch’s claim about him “declaring war” on News Corporation was “wholly wrong” and called on the media mogul to retract his “serious allegation”.
Gordon Brown attacks News International in the Commons
The News Corp boss told the inquiry the ex-PM was not in a “balanced state of mind” when he made the call.
But Mr Brown said he had not phoned, met with or written to the News Corp chief over the Sun’s decision to switch support back to the Conservatives.
He added that he hoped “Mr Murdoch will have the good grace to correct his account,” when he resumes giving evidence to the inquiry on Thursday.
On the first day of his two days at the inquiry Rupert Murdoch was quizzed about his relationships and dealings with British prime ministers spanning six decades, to which he responded with some revealing insights.
Mr Murdoch said he met Margaret Thatcher for lunch at Chequers on January 4, 1981 during which he discussed his plans to buy The Times and The Sunday Times.
But he said he did not ask her for any favours and she did not offer him any, adding: “I have never asked a prime minister for anything.”
Mr Murdoch admitted he was a “great admirer” of Baroness Thatcher, who The Sun supported in the election of 1979, but denied he was “the power behind her throne”.
:: Live blog – Sky’s Sophy Ridge has all the latest updates from the inquiry
Mr Murdoch dismissed suggestions he had any involvement in the appointment of ex-News Of The World editor Andy Coulson as David Cameron’s communications chief.
He also said he never discussed News Corp’s planned takeover of BSkyB with the Prime Minister.
“I was not involved at all. I did not discuss the appointment of Mr Coulson with Mr Cameron or with other senior Conservative politicians or their political advisers, nor did I ask anyone to speak to any of them on my behalf,” he said.
Mr Murdoch said that when he first met Mr Cameron and his family he was “extremely impressed by the kindness he showed”.
When asked if he thought the Prime Minister was a lightweight, he paused and said: “No… not then.”
Mr Murdoch went on to reveal how a previously close and “warm” personal relationship with Gordon Brown broke down, regrettably.
He recounted his version of what happened when he spoke to the then-prime minister after The Sun switched its support from Labour to the Tories in September 2009.
Mr Murdoch said “no voices were raised” but he claimed Mr Brown told him: “Your company has declared war on my Government and we have no alternative but to make war on your company.”
On Tony Blair, Mr Murdoch said he had been impressed by the Labour MP well before he became prime minister, and today regards him as a personal friend.
Mr Murdoch admitted he may well have made the comment, reported by Mr Blair: “If our flirtation is ever consummated, Tony, then I suspect we will end up making love like porcupines, very very carefully.”
But he denied his relationship had ever led to any favours from Mr Blair.
At the start of his evidence, the 81-year-old said he welcomed the inquiry and wanted to address “abuses”.
“I think the need is fairly obvious, there have been some abuses shown. I would say there have been many other abuses but we can go into that in time,” he said.
“The state of the media in this country is of absolutely vital interest to all its citizens. So frankly, I welcome the opportunity because I want to put some myths to bed.”
He added: “Sometimes I’ve been right and sometimes I’ve been wrong at great cost.”
Mr Murdoch rejected suggestions that he is a “Sun King” figure who uses his charisma to exert his authority over his worldwide media empire, insisting he runs News Corp “with a great deal of decentralisation”.
“I try very hard to set an example of ethical behaviour and make it quite clear that I expect it,” he told the inquiry.
“One can describe that in a number of ways. But do I do it via an aura or charisma? I don’t think so.”
At one point, Mr Murdoch drew laughter from inside the court when he said of politicians: “They all hated the BBC and they all gave it whatever they wanted.”
Summarising Mr Murdoch’s evidence, Sky’s political correspondent Sophy Ridge said: “Mr Murdoch was comfortable discussing Margaret Thatcher, irritated by suggestions of an improper relationship with Tony Blair and hurt by the disintegration of his relationship with Gordon Brown.”
She added that his testimony was in deep contrast to that of his son James.
“They have a totally different attitude to the business. Rupert is clearly a newspaper man who says you can find out what he thinks by reading The Sun,” she said.
“Compare that to James Murdoch – who merely said he tried to ‘familiarise’ himself with The Sun and read the News Of The World sometimes ‘but not all of it’.”
Mr Murdoch will continue to give evidence in Court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London tomorrow.
It is his most high profile public appearance since he gave evidence to MPs last year.
On that occasion the tycoon told MPs it was the “most humble day” of his life and apologised for the hacking scandal, but the session was dramatically disrupted when a protester pelted him with a foam pie.
News Corp still owns The Sun, The Times and the Sunday Times, and has a 39% stake in satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has denied any wrong-doing over the BSkyB takeover bid and insisted he would be “delighted” to appear before the Leveson Inquiry.
The SNP leader dismissed claims made in an email from a senior figure at News Corp suggesting he would call Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt “whenever we need him to”.