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Politicians 'spent too much time courting media': But PM cleared of deal to win Murdoch's backing
David Cameron has demanded an apology from Labour and Gordon Brown who claimed the Conservatives were influenced by News Corp
Leveson said politicians had 'developed too close a relationship' with press
23:25 GMT, 29 November 2012
Britain's political class escaped serious criticism from Lord Justice Leveson – despite extensive evidence to his inquiry that members of it got ‘too close’ to media barons in the hope of securing the support of newspapers.
Lord Justice Leveson explicitly rejected Labour claims that Mr Cameron had done a ‘deal’ with Rupert Murdoch in the run-up to the last election in return for the support of The Sun.
He said the evidence ‘does not establish anything resembling a “deal” whereby News International’s support was traded for the expectation of policy favours’.
PM cleared: Despite extensive evidence to Lord Justice Leveson's (right) inquiry that members of the political class got 'too close' to media barons, they have been cleared of serious criticism including David Cameron (left) after Leveson rejected claims that he had done a 'deal' with Rupert Murdoch
In the Commons, the Prime Minister seized on the finding to demand an apology from both Labour and Gordon Brown, who had claimed the Conservatives ‘shaped their policy to match the demands of News Corp’.
Mr Cameron said: ‘Those who repeatedly made these allegations – including members of this House and, I have to say, the former Prime Minister – should now acknowledge they were wrong.’
Mr Brown was not available for comment last night.
Trouble texts: The report pored over Mr Cameron's relationship with former News International boss Rebekah Brooks including embarrassing text read out during the inquiry
Lord Justice Leveson said that over
the last 30 years senior politicians on both sides had ‘developed too
close a relationship with the Press in a way which has not been in the
party leaders had spent too much time courting the Press and had gone
‘too far in trying to control the supply of news and information to the
public in return for the hope of favourable treatment’.
Media companies ‘should not be criticised for or restrained from’ lobbying for their interests and he said it was ‘entirely the responsibility of politicians’ to keep the public interest paramount.
But most individual politicians escaped serious censure, despite detailed evidence about the way in which some on both sides courted the Murdoch empire.
Lord Justice Leveson said that Mr Cameron ‘went to great lengths to secure meetings face-to-face with Mr Murdoch and other News International executives and editors’.
The report also pored over his close relationship with former News International boss Rebekah Brooks, whose text exchanges with the Prime Minister caused him excruciating embarrassment when they were read out during the inquiry.
It emerged that Mr Cameron even signed off the messages LOL – thinking this meant lots of love – when it actually meant ‘laugh out loud’.
In a text to Mr Cameron on the day before his 2009 conference speech Mrs Brooks said: ‘I am so rooting for you tomorrow, not just as a proud friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together.’
A further text referred to Mr Cameron’s use of a horse owned by her husband Charlie Brooks. Mr Cameron sent her a message saying: ‘The horse CB put me on. Fast, unpredictable and hard to control but fun. DC.’
The inquiry also heard evidence that the Camerons enjoyed regular ‘country suppers’ with Mrs Brooks, who is a fellow member of the so-called ‘Chipping Norton set’.
Lord Justice Leveson said this ‘demonstrates how the discussion of professional matters in a very informal social environment was occurring.’
He said the pair had continued to keep in touch even after the phone hacking scandal began to take off in late 2010 but said Mr Cameron’s recollection of a call on the subject was ‘imperfect’.
'Too close': Lord Leveson said that David Cameron's close relationship with Rebekah Brooks had caused problems with perception
He said there was nothing wrong with
politicians having close friendships with media executives, but warned
it led to problems of ‘public perception’.
report said there were ‘too many issues where the public… has been
entitled to worry about the way things have been done and what has been
'Diminished public confidence in political communications'
Mr Brown denied courting the Murdoch
empire, despite evidence to the inquiry that his wife Sarah had hosted a
pyjama party at Chequers attended by Mrs Brooks, Mr Murdoch’s wife
Wendi and daughter Elisabeth.
Lord Justice Leveson concluded: ‘On a
personal level, Mr Brown was also quite close to Mrs Brooks and his
wife Sarah was described as a good friend’.
The inquiry also heard evidence on how
Tony Blair had courted the Murdochs as part of a successful effort to
win the backing of The Sun.
Supported report: Former Labour spin-doctor Alastair Campbell has urged the Prime Minister to back the report
This included an article for the
newspaper headlined ‘My love for the Pound’, which Alastair Campbell
said was ‘likely to be the final piece of the jigsaw before Mr Murdoch
agreed the paper would back the Labour Party at the election’.
Justice Leveson raised concerns about New Labour’s ‘unprecedented’ use
of political spin. He said there was an ‘obvious question’ about the
extent to which the party’s strategy of ‘neutralising’ hostile sections
of the Press eventually backfired and ‘resulted in diminishing public
confidence in political communications’.
Speaking to the BBC, former Labour spin-doctor Mr Campbell said he supported the Leveson report and urged the Prime Minister to back it, saying: ‘This is not a bonkers proposal.’
The report examined Mr Cameron’s recruitment of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as communications chief.
Lord Justice Leveson expressed surprise that George Osborne had recommended Mr Coulson, given that he had overseen a number of damaging stories about the party as editor.
He added: ‘That Mr Coulson had resigned in response to the conviction and imprisonment of one of his journalists added yet another reason to question why it was that Mr Coulson’s name came to Mr Osborne’s mind.’
Lord Justice Leveson said it was ‘clear’ that inquiries did not go beyond asking Mr Coulson about the issue and accepting his assurances’.
Jeremy Hunt and his 'problem' adviser
Jeremy Hunt created a ‘serious problem’ in the way he handled Rupert Murdoch’s 8billion bid for BSkyB but he did not show ‘actual bias’, the report found.
Lord Justice Leveson was critical of the former Culture Secretary’s decision to appoint his special adviser Adam Smith to liaise with News Corporation over the bid, even though he was a friend of the firm’s chief lobbyist Fred Michel.
He said Mr Hunt then failed to supervise his adviser properly.
Lord Justice Leveson said this led to
a ‘serious hidden problem’ in the handling of the bid. It was
‘probable’ that Mr Smith had passed confidential information to News
This could have
resulted in legal action against the Government by opponents of the bid
if it had been made public while a decision was being considered.
Not 'actual bias': Jeremy Hunt created a 'serious problem' in the way he handled Rupert Murdoch's 8billion bid for BSkyB, the report found
He said the ‘interactions between those acting on behalf of media companies and politicians concerning this multi-billion-pound proposed media transaction provide a good example of how easily the relationship can become unhealthy’.
But Lord Justice Leveson said that in other respects Mr Hunt had handled the bid ‘commendably’, putting in place ‘robust systems’ to ensure it was dealt with properly.
He rejected outright Labour suggestions that Mr Hunt was given the job of overseeing the bid because of his known closeness to the Murdochs, saying: ‘The evidence does not begin to support a conclusion that the choice of Mr Hunt was the product of improper media pressure, still less an attempt to guarantee a particular outcome to the process.’ Lord Justice Leveson said there was ‘no credible evidence of actual bias on the part of Mr Hunt’.
But he added: ‘The voluminous exchanges between Mr Michel and Mr Smith, in the circumstances give rise to a perception of bias.’
David Cameron said the report had highlighted lessons which needed to be learned about the handling of quasi-judicial decisions by ministers.
But he welcomed the conclusion that the appointment of Mr Hunt had not been intended to help Rupert Murdoch and had not resulted in bias.
Mr Cameron said this vindicated his decision to back Mr Hunt, who was promoted to the job of Health Secretary in September.
He told MPs that Mr Hunt had ‘endured a stream of allegations with great dignity’. He went on: ‘We were right to stand by him.’
During the crisis Labour had called for Mr Hunt to resign. Lib Dem MPs, including Nick Clegg, abstained in a vote of confidence on Mr Hunt.
News Corp’s bid to take total control of BSkyB was abandoned when the phone hacking scandal broke.