Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the day when Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp, is giving evidence.
By Esther Bintliff and Salamander Davoudi in London, with contributions from FT correspondents. All times London time.
NB: We refer to Rupert Murdoch as Rupert throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his son James. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning Rupert.
16.40 We’re going to close the blog for now, but as ever we’ll have more news and analysis for you on FT.com.
And we’ll leave you with the latest development: officials at the FSA are interested in the News Corp emails that were published yesterday, and in particular an email sent by Fred Michel, News Corp’s director of public affairs, in which he described obtaining “absolutely illegal” information from Adam Smith, an adviser to Jeremy Hunt. Read the full story here.
16.15 So, today’s session was shorter than expected, and Rupert’s evidence did not really yield any explosive revelations of the level that James did yesterday. But it’s important to remember that in his questioning of Rupert, Robert Jay QC was largely focused on the decades in the run-up to the two most controversial issues for News Corp (i.e. the phonehacking scandal and the bid for BSkyB) rather than addressing those issues directly – he will presumably concentrate on phonehacking and BSkyB tomorrow.
Thus Jay spent a lot of time asking Rupert about key moments for the business during the 1980s and 1990s; his relationship with different political leaders; and his varying levels of editorial influence over the newspapers.
One could imagine that Jay’s strategy here was to lay the ground – very thoroughly – to then better understand Rupert’s/News Corp’s approach to the more recent issues, and to show whether there was any historical precedent for the behaviour that the company engaged in as it tried to get regulatory approval for its bid for the remaining shares in BSkyB.
In the meantime, a couple of interesting points that we noticed today:
- Rupert said many times – in a phrase that seemed born to be a soundbite - “I have never asked a prime minister for anything”. He was particularly insistent that he had never brought his commercial interests into play in his political relationships. However, at another stage in the proceedings, he seems to contradict this assertion. When asked whether he had ever discussed the BBC licence fee with David Cameron, Rupert said: “I’d gone through it before with other prime ministers… It didn’t matter what they said. They all hated the BBC and they all gave it whatever it wanted”. Now, doesn’t that sound as though Rupert had in fact asked other prime ministers about the BBC licence fee, and had even felt let down by their consequent failure to act on his talks with them? Of course he doesn’t say that he asked them directly to cut the licence fee, but the implication seems to be there.
- Rupert and James appeared to contradict each other on the question of what affected the timing of News Corp’s announcement of the bid for the rest of the shares in BSkyB, raising the question of who was telling the truth. Rupert said today, very vaguely: “I don’t think we gave any thought to the timing of it, except that it would be good to talk to the directors“. Meanwhile, James said yesterday: “I think it was [part of the News Corp strategy] to wait until the election was completed, regardless of the outcome, such that a transaction of this size, some $12 million, didn’t become a political football, and that was the goal. But the primary driver for the timing was really (a) the affordability of it, being able to do it. We had taken some time to really husband our resources carefully.”
15.10 Helen Warrell, the FT’s home affairs correspondent, sent through this update earlier today on the news that Adam Smith – Jeremy Hunt’s special adviser – was resigning:
Even if Adam Smith claims that he acted without Mr Hunt’s authority, the secretary of state may still be held to account for his actions. The ministerial code states clearly that responsibility for “management and conduct of special advisers … rests with the minister who made the appointment”.
14.47 Lord Justice Leveson has just said the inquiry should close for the afternoon and that he’s sorry to inconvenience Rupert but he will need him to return tomorrow for further discussions.
14.46 So Rupert just admitted that he probably did contribute to the decision that the Sun in Scotland should support the SNP.
14.40 Jay says that Mr Salmond writes to Rupert in New York in October 24 2007. It takes Rupert a long time to find the correct document that Jay is referring to and Jay eventually asks for Rupert to be given some assistance.
He met you in New York in early 2007, we can see that can’t we?… He found your views both insightful and stimulating and there was reference to a book, by Mr Webb, which you gave him to read. Then he’s telling you about Global Scot. Then on the 31st of October 2007 -
Rupert interrupts to give the details of the book that he gave to Alex Salmond, which he says was about Irish Scots.
Jay: He writes to you again on the 31st October, inviting you to see a play called Black Watch in New York, warning you that it’s quite challenging… did you go to see that play?
I’m afraid not.
Jay: There are other letters that pass between you. We’re not going to look at all of them… The Scottish Sun supports the SNP in the election of 2011, although the Sun is neutral on the issue of independence, do you follow me?
Jay asks Rupert whether that was a decision that he contributed to? Rupert replies:
I don’t remember, but probably yes.
Jay: Why did you support Mr Salmond’s party, can you recall?
Well it’s a little emotional but I am attracted by the idea, but I’m not convinced so I said we should stay neutral on the big issue, but let’s see how he performs.
14.39 Jay asks Rupert to describe his relationship with Alex Salmond. Rupert says:
Today? I would describe it as warm… I don’t know Mr Salmond well.. but he’s an amusing guy, I enjoy his company, I enjoy talking and listening to him…
14.35 Jay is asking Rupert about the Scottish National Party and his relationship with Alex Salmond, the first minister. He reminds Rupert that in 2007, The Sun in Scotland was strongly anti-SNP (warning readers that if they voted for the SNP they would be hanging a noose around Scotland’s neck) but the paper changed its tune in 2010.
Jay suggests that from November 2000 and October 2007, there was no contact at all between Rupert and Alex Salmond. Rupert seems to agree with that.
“But from 30th October 2007, there is… far more contact, isn’t there?”, says Jay.
Well you can see here that we opened a large and very modern printing plant in Scotland, and Mr Salmond was invited to be present.
A number of other meetings followed, says Jay, including one in which Rupert and Alex Salmond discussed News Corp investments in Scotland. Rupert says, looking at the official list of meetings:
I don’t know who wrote this…
14.30 Jay says that Rupert does have political advisors briefing him on the current political situation in the UK, doesn’t he? Rupert says yes, editors, and others who he gossips with.
Jay asks why was the bid announced one month after the election?
Rupert looks stuck. After a long pause he says:
I don’t know, I’d have to go and look at my record.
Rupert then goes on to mention the “away weekend of directors which takes place sometime around June”, something that James also referred to in his evidence yesterday.
Jay points out that a bid process is fine-tuned and that these decisions around timing are surely not arbitrary. Rupert says [somewhat surprisingly]:
I don’t think we gave any thought to the timing of it, except that it would be good to talk to the directors.
14.29 Jay asks was there was no link in Rupert’s mind between his support for Cameron and the BSkyB bid? Rupert says no.
14.27 Jay asks about a short encounter over tea with David Cameron. In his witness statement, Rupert has said:
I do recall that, shortly after his election, Mr Cameron invited me in for tea at No.10… he thanked me for the support of our papers; I congratulated him and told him that I was sure our titles would watch carefully and report whether he kept all of his campaign promises.
Rupert says he has nothing to add to this except that Andy Coulson was present.
14.25 Jay asks:
Do you feel that there is any validity at least in the perception that there is an implied trade-off here. People think – and have been thinking over 30 years – that the support you give to politicians, mainly through endorsements in The Sun, is met with a quid-pro-quo after they get power? I understand your evidence that there is no empirical basis to that but do you admit the perception?
The perception certainly irritates me because I think it’s a myth.
14.21 Jay says that one particular meeting between prime minister David Cameron and Rupert was not on the official list… a time when Cameron flew out to Santorini to Rupert’s yacht. Rupert replies [our emphasis]:
It’s coming back to me vaguely. I checked with my daughter, because he [Cameron] was being flown, I believe by my son-in-law’s plane, on his way to a holiday in Turkey… she says that I in fact met him on her boat. But it doesn’t matter [which boat]…
Jay asks: Cameron was taking considerable steps to meet you, wasn’t he?
Politicians go out of their way to impress people in the press… hoping they will succeed in impressing people. That’s the game… Of course they certainly would like us to carry their views in a favourable way. That’s totally normal.
14.18 Jay suggests there was always a “political frisson” to Rupert’s commercial deals. Rupert denies it:
I welcome the chance to address that… That is a complete myth… That I used the influence of The Sun or this supposed political power of the paper to get favourable treatment.
14.16 In terms of the bid for the remaining shares in BSkyB, Jay asks whether Rupert would have expected the Tory government to be more positive towards it?
I was just sitting in America… I was worried that the independent directors of BSkyB were pushing up the price to a level that was unrealistic… That’s a lot of money to bring into this country. It was a lot of money to find. £13bn – and they didn’t even settle for that.
14.13 Lord Justice Leveson asks Rupert to clarify a little more his claim that he would not ever bring his commercial interests into his political talks. Rupert says:
I understand, sir. I long since became disillusioned with talking to politicians about the BBC. And Ofcom, I did not think about that. It would have been asking for something. And I didn’t do that.
Rupert continues that if he had always done what was in his commercial interests, he would have supported the Conservatives at every single election, because they were the pro-business party.
14.11 Rupert denies ever discussing with David Cameron the BBC licence fee, Ofcom or the appointment of Andy Coulson as Cameron’s communication director.
On the BBC licence fee, Rupert says:
I’d gone through it before with other prime ministers… It didn’t matter what they said. They all hated the BBC and they all gave it whatever it wanted.
There is a ripple of laughter around the room, at which Rupert looks up, obviously quite pleased with his impact.
14.07 Jay is going through the list of meetings between Rupert Murdoch and David Cameron.
Jay asks whether on September 30 2009, Rupert met with Cameron for breakfast – the day they “came out for the Tories”. Rupert seems unsure.
“I’m as sure as I can be that it was [that date],” says Jay.
“I wasn’t here the day we came out for the Tories,” says Rupert.
14.05 The Leveson inquiry has begun again. Jay is asking about David Cameron and when Rupert first met him. Rupert says they met at a family picnic and that he was very impressed with Cameron’s attitude towards the children.
Jay asks if Rupert thought Cameron was lightweight? Rupert says No, not then.
13.37 Avaaz, the campaigning group, has announced that it is launching a petition calling on culture minister Jeremy Hunt to lose his job, which will be sent to 800,000 of its UK members. Avaaz notes – somewhat gleefully – that in one of the emails from News Corp’s lobbyist Fred Michel that was disclosed yesterday, their campaign against the bid for the rest of the shares in BSkyB – was in fact mentioned:
One of the emails revealed that Hunt thought it was crucial to weaken Avaaz’s campaign. We had them running scared!
Here’s a screengrab of the petition:
13.35 Meanwhile, just before lunch there was some discussion between Robert Jay QC and Lord Justice Leveson about how long the questioning should go on this afternoon. Jay suggested that perhaps this afternoon’s session should be only 45 minutes, with the inquiry continuing tomorrow. According to The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh, Rupert did not take kindly to this suggestion:
13.24 Apparently the MP Tom Watson made a rather pointed comment to Jeremy Hunt today:
13.20 A bit more detail from Kiran Stacey in Westminster on events in parliament today:
Jeremy Hunt defended himself in a statement to the Commons, telling MPs, “I conducted this process with scrupulous fairness throughout.”
The culture secretary listed four decisions that went against the wishes of Mr Murdoch, including saying he was “minded” to refer the bid to the Competition Commission, asking Ofcom to review the assurances undertaken by News Corp as part of the bid, extending the period of consultation and asking Ofcom to review whether the phone hacking affair had any impact on the bid.
The culture secretary also defended Adam Smith, his special adviser who resigned earlier in the day, saying: “I believe him to be a man of huge integrity and personal decency and it is a matter of huge regret that he has resigned.” Mr Smith had been the contact point between Mr Hunt and Fred Michel, the lobbyist for News Corp.
But Labour scoffed at Mr Hunt’s explanations. Harriet Harman, the shadow culture secretary, said: “The reality was he wasn’t judging the bid, he was backing the bid, and he should resign.”
13.03 Quick update on what happened in the House of Commons today. Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary who has come under so much pressure in the wake of yesterday’s evidence from James Murdoch at Leveson, said in a statement [our emphasis]:
“The volume and tone of those communications were clearly not appropriate in a quasi-judicial process and today Adam Smith has resigned… although Adam Smith accepts that he overstepped the mark on this occasion, I want to set on record that I believe he did so unintentionally.”
Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of the Labour party, criticised Hunt strongly, saying:
His role should have been impartial but it wasn’t… The reality is that he wasn’t judging this bid, he was backing this bid, and so should resign.
To which, Jeremy Hunt shook his head and David Cameron mouthed “Rubbish”.
13.00 Jay suggests breaking for lunch, but says he is concerned over the length of the evidence, and how cogent his questions and Rupert’s answers might be if the questioning goes on late into the afternoon. He says his preference would be to go for about 45 minutes in the afternoon and then restart in the morning tomorrow.
Leveson suggests Jay “have a word” with Rupert’s advisers during the lunchbreak and that he is conscious of not putting “excessive pressure” on either Jay or Rupert.
The inquiry breaks for lunch until 14.00.
12.55 Jay is returning to Rupert’s earlier comment that Gordon Brown apparently said he “declared war” on the company. Jay asks whether this would have affected the timing of the bid for the rest of the shares in BSkyB, and whether the threat may have referred to Gordon Brown placing obstacles in the way of the bid.
Rupert says he didn’t think about it in that way, that it never occurred to him.
Speaking about the bid for BSkyB shares, Rupert adds:
I’ll be quite honest with you, we thought it would be held up for a couple of months in Europe but there was nothing here [in the UK]…
12.52 Rupert says that when the phonehacking revelations emerged, Gordon Brown said some “terrible” things. He says Gordon Brown called the company a “criminal organisation” and claimed they had hacked into his personal medical records to get the story they published about the condition of his son in hospital.
Rupert claims that in truth Gordon Brown had known how The Sun got the story – which was from another father in the hospital – and says that after The Sun published its story, Gordon Brown had actually written a personal letter to thank Rebekah Brooks for her support.
12.50 Rupert talks about changing The Sun’s allegiance from Labour to the Tories. He says that he called Gordon Brown to let him know [our emphasis]:
[Brown] said, and I must stress, no voices were raised… he said, well your company has declared war on my government, and we have no alternative but to make war on your company.
Rupert adds that he does not think Gordon Brown was in “a balanced state of mind” when he made this comment.
12.48 Jay is taking a sceptical approach to his questioning of Rupert Murdoch, and appears to have little sympathy for him, particularly when Rupert claims to have no memory of recorded events – as he often does.
12.46 Rupert is asked whether he had any conversations with Gordon Brown about holding a snap election. Rupert says no, but then after a pause, adds:
“I have no memory of that”
If any politician wanted my opinion on major matters, then he had to read the editorials of The Sun.
12.44 Rupert expresses regret that when The Sun came out against Gordon Brown in September 2009, that put an end to a “very warm” relationship with Labour. “I regret The Sun came at him,” he says. He says he hopes that relationship can be repaired.
12.43 Mr Blair’s biography says John Reid could have stood for the leadership but “the Murdoch papers – I fear at Rupert’s instigation, just wrote him off.” Is that true? Rupert says he doesn’t think that was true.
12.41 Jay says: Mr Blair held regular talks with Irwin Stelzer. Would Mr Stelzer have been comunicating your views? Rupert replies:
No. Mr Stelzer was a distinguished economist, he had his own views… he was not there to carry a message from me.
Jay: I’m sure Dr Irwin Stelzer would have his own ideas on this and every other topic, but in one sense he would know your thinking and would be able to discuss that with Mr Blair, wouldn’t he?
Probably, yes. He was actually closer to Andrew Neil than me.
12.36 Jay is now asking Rupert about the war on Iraq, and his newspapers’ support for it. Rupert says:
We did support the war, as did most papers… so did the New York Times.
Jay says that Rupert had a number of calls with Blair around that time, and suggests they talked about the war. Rupert says:
He wouldn’t have been calling me for support.
Jay says that Mr Rawnsley’s version in a book called The End of the Party, is that Rupert and Blair devised a strategy to attack President Chirac. Is that true? Rupert:
I doubt that very much. I don’t think Mr Blair would come to me for advice on a matter like that. Why would he? He’s surely above talking to a proprietor about his foreign relations with France…
Jay: Well the articles in The Sun at the time described Chirac as le French worm, and ‘a cheap tart that puts price before principle’.
12.34 BREAKING Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, is now speaking in the House of Commons. He insists he has “strictly followed due process” throughout.
12.31 Jay asks about Chris Patten’s book on Hong Kong which was due to be published by Harper Collins. Jay asks whether it’s true that Rupert pulled the book. He admits:
When I heard it was about to hit the streets, I stepped in and said ‘Don’t do it’ which I see now was clearly wrong.
Jay goes on to suggest that Rupert did this to advance News Corp’s own commercial interests in China and points to progress that News Corp made there following the intervention. Rupert denies this.
12.26 Back at Leveson, Jay is asking Rupert about a story told in Alistair Campbell’s diaries regarding the time when Rupert wanted to buy into Italy’s Mediaset empire.
Jay: Did you speak to Mr Blair and ask him to speak to Mr Prodi [Romano Prodi, the Italian prime minister at the time] to say that he should not interefere?
No. I may have spoken to Mr Prodi. I had my own access to Prodi… I may well have spoken to Mr Blair separately and said how do you think a British industry is going to get on in a country like Italy?
Jay: You didn’t ask Mr Blair to phone Mr Prodi up?
Jay: You couldn’t have said anything that gave Mr Blair that impression to intervene on your behalf?
Rupert: No I never asked Mr Blair for favours.
Jay: According to Mr Campbell, Mr Blair said he would think about it but in the end the call came from Mr Prodi.
12.25 Update from Kiran Stacey in Westminster:
At a turbulent session of prime minister’s questions, David Cameron insisted: “I fully support the culture secretary,” a statement greeted with gales of laughter from the Labour benches.
The prime minister insisted Mr Hunt “sought independent advice from independent regulators, even though he didn’t have to, and followed that advice at every single stage, even though he didn’t have to.”
But Ed Miliband, the labour leader, accused the prime minister of “putting his cronies before the interests of the country”, and repeated his demand that Mr Hunt should resign.
12.23 Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, the FT’s media editor, has found another important nugget of information in Rupert’s witness statement:
12.16 Leveson has announced another short break. Meanwhile, the House of Commons is so full for today’s PMQs that it appears many MPs are having to stand.
12.15 Update from Ben Fenton:
12.14 Quick update from PMQs, which is going on at the same time as the Leveson inquiry: David Cameron has said that Jeremy Hunt has his “full support” and will give a full account of himself later.
12.10 Jay refers to a March 10 2007 extract from Alistair Campbell’s diary. He reads:
TB [Tony Blair] spoke to Irwin Stelzer later who said Murdoch was leaning towards supporting us again, but for commercial reasons they would probably make clear who they were backing at the start of the campaign.
Jay asks: Had you had that discussion with Mr Stelzer?
Rupert: No, if he said that he certainly had no right to… I don’t know how many times I have to state this – that I never took commercial considerations.
12.08 Rupert appears to get impatient with Jay, tapping the table in front of him for emphasis:
I want to say, Mr Jay that I… never asked Mr Blair for anything, nor indeed did I receive any favours. And if you want to check that you should call him.
12.05 Jay asks Rupert to look at an extract from Alistair Campbell’s diaries:
TB and GB went to see Murdoch, Les Hinton and Irwin Stelzer.
TB’s sense was that Murdoch wanted to back us… but that the leading people at The Sun… were telling him he must be mad.
Jay asks Rupert: Is that correct?
Rupert: I don’t remember that.
Jay reads out another bit from the extract which says: “Murdoch said he hated the single currency”. Jay asks Rupert: Would you have said that?
Rupert: Oh most certainly. I had arguments for many years with Blair on the subject.
12.05 Asked about his support for political parties, Rupert says: “I want to make clear that my commercial interests… never came into any consideration”
12.02 Jay asks “Is it true that you waited as long as possible to endorse the Labour party, because that was the best way of extracting commercial advantage from them?”
Rupert says: Absolutely not.
12.01 Jay asks whether Rupert said the following to Tony Blair:
If our flirtation is ever consummated then I expect we will end up making love like porcupines, very very carefully.
Rupert laughs and again says he might have said that.
12.00 Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, the FT’s media editor, is going through Rupert’s witness statement and has found this:
11.56 Jay reads from a book by Andrew Neil describing the dinner at Mosimann’s:
The dinner went well. Blair discovered Rupert was not the ogre his party painted. And Rupert found what Blair had to say a refreshing change from the usual Labour…
Rupert: I think I’ve already said I don’t remember the dinner, but it sounds a very possible conversation.
According to Neil’s book, Rupert said his newspapers were not wedded to the Tories. Rupert seems to acknowledge he may have said this.
According to the book, Rupert apparently said after the dinner about Blair: “Well he certainly says all the right things, but we’re not letting our pants down just yet.”
Rupert guffaws and says he “might’ve” said that.
11.55 Jay asks: “Do you remember a private dinner in 1994, at a restaurant called Mosimann’s?”
Rupert: “No… I’ve read references to it.. but I don’t even know where Mosimann’s is.”
11.54 Jay is asking about the rise of Tony Blair. Jay says it was obvious beforehand that Blair was going to win but Rupert denies this.
11.53 Jay asks: “So… you are completely oblivious to the commercial benefits to your company of a particular party winning an election?”
Jay: So commercial considerations are wholly subordinated?
Rupert: I have no commercial interests except the newspapers. I love newspapers.
Jay: Don’t you have some responsibility towards your shareholders?
Rupert: Well they tell me so. They’d like me to get rid of them all [the newspapers].
11.50 Rupert says:
Politicians, let’s be clear, always seek the support of all newspapers and all media outlets. I think that’s part of democracy.
Jay: “It’s more complicated than that. You own a greater share… The Sun is so important… there are so many floating voters.”
…We hope that by raising issues we can have influence on things we believe in… our approach to public affairs is to take issues by issues.
11.49 Rupert is getting a bit confused about who won the election in 1992. Jay tells him the Conservatives did win.
11.49 Rupert: “I don’t know many politicians…”
11.46 Jay asks more about the political parties that benefit from News Corp’s support prior to elections:
Jay: Is it fair to say that you generally back the winning side?
Rupert: No. I’m trying to think when we didn’t. But, er… it’s certainly true the last election in America. Both the WSJ and the New York Post certainly opposed the almost certain victory of President Obama.
Jay: I’m talking about the UK…
Rupert: I realise that, but we work on the same principles everywhere… I don’t try to find the winning candidates, I judge the candidates on the issues… I never let my commercial interests – whatever they are – come into elections.
11.44 Kiran Stacey in Westminster has sent through this response from No 10 on the resignation of Adam Smith:
A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister thought it was right that Mr Smith has resigned. The official said: “This reflects [Mr Smith's] judgement of the seriousness of this particular case.”
Mr Cameron and Mr Hunt held a meeting yesterday afternoon after James Murdoch’s testimony to the Leveson inquiry, but Number 10 refused to say what was discussed at that meeting. The spokesman insisted the prime minister retained full confidence in his culture secretary however.
11.42 Jay is asking about 1992, when Kelvin McKenzie, editor of The Sun, put on the front page: “It’s The Sun wot won it” in relation to the election. Rupert says he cannot remember it himself but he has been told by his son that at the time he gave Kelvin “a hell of a bollocking” and adds: “It was tasteless and wrong for us”.
He goes on to say:
The Sun may be the only independent paper in the business…
If you want to judge my thinking, look at The Sun.
11.40 Jay brings up the time when Andrew Neil, then editor of the Sunday Times, had decided to endorse Michael Heseltine. Andrew Neil apparently recorded that Rupert told him:
We owe Thatcher a lot as a company. Don’t go overboard on your attacks on her.
Rupert replies: I certainly have no memory of that.
11.37 Rupert says Margaret Thatcher had the support of more than just him – she also had the support of The Telegraph, for example (“Which was even then the mouthpiece of the Tory party”, he adds).
Jay: But you’re the biggest player, with about 36% of the market…
If you’re talking just about newspapers, yes… People can stop buying my newspapers anytime. Often do, I’m afraid. And it is only natural for politicians to reach out to editors, and sometimes proprietors if they’re available, to explain what they’re doing and hoping that makes an impression that gets through. But I was only one of several.
11.35 Jay is quoting Lord Wyatt on the subject of a broadcasting bill going through the Lords, and the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Rupert [our emphasis]:
Margaret is very keen to preserve your position… Margaret knows how much she depends on your support, likewise you depend on hers in this matter.
I have no memory of that, and if I’m right he was writing this many years afterwars, I wouldn’t put too much weight on what Lord Wyatt said…
11.31 Jay reads from another document in which Rupert’s behaviour at a dinner party is described:
Attending a dinner, Rupert came and sat near us. When Ken Livingstone appeared on screen and attributed the Labour defeat down to the liars and smears of the media, Rupert cried out “That’s me!” and was delighted.
Rupert says he remembers the party because he was late and adds:
If I said that, I’m afraid that was the influence of alcohol.
11.28 Here is the official statement just issued by DCMS on behalf of Adam Smith, the advisor to Jeremy Hunt [our emphasis]:
“While it was part of my role to keep News Corporation informed throughout the BskyB bid process, the content and extent of my contact was done without authorisation from the Secretary of State.
I do not recognise all of what Fred Michel said, but nonetheless I appreciate that my activities at times went too far and have, taken together, created the perception that News Corporation had too close a relationship with the department, contrary to the clear requirements set out by Jeremy Hunt and the permanent secretary that this needed to be a fair and scrupulous process.
Whilst I firmly believe that the process was in fact conducted scrupulously fairly, as a result of my activities it is only right for me to step down as special adviser to Jeremy Hunt.”
11.24 Leveson asks about privacy:
You don’t see a distinction between for example politicians and newspaper proprietors and one might even include judges, I’d have to think about that, and those who hold themselves out or are held out as exercising positions of influence, and on the other hand somebody who is famous because they are an actor, a filmstar or because they’ve written a book. You don’t see a distinction between the two?
I think people that hold responsibility… I really welcome the Daily Telegraph publishing all the expense accounts, admittedly through several third parties, of the members of parliament… I thought that was a great public service I’ve gotta say. I’m disappointed that the editor of The Times didn’t buy them when they were offered to him first. And obviously the director of public prosecutions has decided that was in the public interest and not something to prosecute.
Leveson clearly feels Rupert hasn’t answered his question. He asks again whether Rupert believes there is a distinction between those with great responsibility and those who are famous for their talents. Rupert talks again about politicians.
11.23 Rupert is talking about privacy:
I don’t think politicians are entitled to the same privacy as the man on the street… people in the public eye – politicans and I also include press proprietors – are not entitled to the same privacy as the man on the street.
11.21 BREAKING – Adam Smith, the special adviser to Jeremy Hunt, is stepping down from his role.
One response on twitter from Andy McSmith of The Independent:
11.19 We’re back. Jay asks whether Rupert knew Rebekah Wade’s “social, cultural and political views” before he appointed her. Rupert says:
I certainly knew a lot of them, yes.
11.16 Rupert Murdoch’s witness statement is also now available here.
11.14 We are likely to get a number of short breaks from the inquiry today, in respect to Rupert’s age, according to Sky News.
11.13 A large quantity of documents have been published to accompany Rupert’s appearance today at Leveson. You can read them and search by keywords here.
11.11 Jeremy Hunt is due to make a statement to parliament at 12.30, just before Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)
11.09 Lord Justice Leveson announces a break – saying, rather aptly: “This is a marathon rather than a sprint”. The proceedings are rather slower today than yesterday, with both Jay and Leveson taking care to give Rupert time to understand their questions, to view the correct documents and respond in full.
11.08 Rupert admitted he had a role in publishing the ‘Hitler diaries‘.
I take full responsibility for it, it was a major mistake I made, and I will live with it for the rest of my life.
11.04 Jay refers to a document in which it says:
Mr Murdoch did not disguise the fact that he is hands on [editorially]… He said he nominates the editors of the two papers, but that the appointments are subject to approval by the board.
He says that he exercises editorial control on major issues, like which party to back in a general election, or policy on Europe.
I never gave instructions to the editors of The Times or The Sunday Times. Sometimes when I was available on a Saturday I’d call in and say what’s the news today? More out of idle curiosity…
Jay asks him about his editorial influence over The Sun and The News of the World. Rupert seems to suggest he has more of a role with the tabloid papers:
I’m interested, I’m a curious person who’s interested in the issues of the day… I was always closer to The Sun…
11.01 On the subject of his influence over the editorial policy of his papers, Rupert says that Harold Evans – then editor of The Sunday Times – once came to him and said “Tell me what you want me to say.”
I said to him, Harry, that is not my job. All I would say to him is please be consistent. Don’t change sides day by day.
10.58 Jay asks whether Rupert ever said that the undertakings he provided to the government were “not worth the paper they were written on”. “Certainly not” says Rupert.
10.56 Jay asks: “Was it your main objective to improve the commercial appeal of these papers – The Sun and The News of the World?”
My goal was… to tell the truth, to interest the public, to get their attention. But overall to tell the truth. I have great respect for the British public and I try and carry that through and give them what they want.
10.54 Rupert denies that between 1968-1991 the standard of his newspapers deteriorated. He says they expanded to a new, young audience.
Jay: We’re looking at standards here. Is it your view that the standards of the tabloid press, have steadily improved?
Well I think The Sun has never been a better paper than it is today. I couldn’t say the same for my competitors, but we won’t go into that (he smiles).
10.51 Leveson is asking Rupert, rather obliquely, about his influence over the editorial slant of his newspapers: [our emphasis]
You have seen many editors come and go. Your press interests have extended. It wouldn’t be at all surprising would it, if those who work for you recognised that you had an appreciation of events that it would be important for them to understand and that they should therefore, er, take a different line only with caution. Because of their respect for your views?
Well I would hope so. I think that I’ve not had that many [editors]. Our editors have generally been very long-serving.
10.48 Jay is asking about the time when Rupert gave evidence to the Select Committee last year. Howard Evans wrote an updated preface to a book just after that, describing Rupert’s leadership style as charismatic.
Jay asks, do you think it has any validitiy at all, this view? Rupert replies:
I try to set an example of ethical behaviour… I make clear that I expect it. Do I have an aura or charisma? I don’t think so.
10.43 Jay is asking Rupert about his Australian newspapers. Rupert says:
I take a particularly strong pride in the fact that we’ve never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers.
10.42: Jay gets to the heart of all this questioning about the events in 1981, asking Rupert:
Is it fair to say that first of all you were impressing on Thatcher your qualities vis-a-vis the acquisition of these papers… [while] with Mr Biffin [Thatcher's advisor], although you didn’t put a gun to his head and say ‘If you refer I will back out’, you far more subtly suggested to him that if he did refer there were disadvantages… you got that message through to him and… unsurprisingly in cabinet that line was taken. Would you agree with that Mr Murdoch?
Not really. Frankly it was Thompson [another media group] that put the gun to the head… It’s very clear from the correspondence…
10.40 Here’s Rupert’s official twitter feed, if you’re interested.
10.38 Jay is asking Rupert in depth about his acquisition of The Times and the discussions that were had at that time, between Rupert and government officials. Although historic, it seems there may be some parallels or contrasts to be drawn with News Corp’s attempted acquisition of the rest of the shares in BSkyB that it does not already own.
10.37 Jeremy Hunt will give a statement to the House of Commons today, it has been confirmed, following yesterday’s revelations.
10.36 Rupert says he does not remember the precise details of interactions with members of Thatcher’s government around the time of his acquisition of The Times.
10.34 A tweet from Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP, regarding Jeremy Hunt:
10.31 Jay is asking about the power proprietors hold over their editors. Rupert replies: [our emphasis]
Perhaps it is estimated but certainly they have power. Let’s face it, if the editor is sending the newspaper broke, it is the responsibility of the proprietor to step in. It’s his responsibility to everybody, for the sake of the journalists and for everyone else. And particularly it’s his responsibility to his many thousands of shareholders…
10.29 According to the notes, Jay says, the prime minister did no more than wish Mr Murdoch well. So no favours were granted?
“And none asked,” replies Rupert.
10.17 Jay: Was it your view that the Sunday Times was not economic as a going concern?
Rupert: I didn’t know. I thought it certainly had a great position on Sunday, but it’s economics and its staff were all enshrined together with The Times, resulting in a big net loss.
Jay: If you look at the Sunday Times separately, SG Warburg had advised that the paper would make a profit in 1992 and onwards… you knew that didn’t you?
Rupert: I didn’t see that, Warburg, I don’t remember seeing that. But did it contribute a profit to the pool of Times newspapers? Yes.
10.25 Rupert says he felt it was perfectly right that Thatcher “knew what was at stake”. But she knew that already, didn’t she, asks Jay. Rupert says no, she didn’t know, particularly the problems with the unions.
Jay asks: “Were you seeking to demonstrate that you were the right man to run these papers… and that you had the will to crush the unions?”
I didn’t have the will to crush the unions – I might have had the desire, but that took several years.
10.24 The minutes said the main purpose was for Rupert to brief Thatcher on the bid and treat her to some speculation about who else had bid.
10.22 Rupert says the meeting with Thatcher was about informing her of the likelihood of a change of ownership of an iconic asset. He says he thought it was appropriate.
10.18 Jay is asking Rupert about his acquisition of The Times in the 1980s.
Jay: At that stage, you having acquired the News of the World in 1968 and The Sun in 1969, you had over 30% of the UK market, is that right?
Rupert says he’ll take that figure.
Jay: The deadline for that purchase was March 1981, and the secretary of state for trade and industry – John Biffin – was required to refer the case to the monopolies and mergers commission, unless he felt it wasn’t necessary or urgent.
Jay points to some evidence, in which Thatcher’s press secretary attaches minutes of a lunch that Thatcher had with Rupert Murdoch at Chequers. The document didn’t enter the public domain until March of this year, says Jay.
Jay checks with Rupert that he has no recollection of this lunch, Rupert agrees, but says he accepts Thatcher’s press secretary’s minutes.
10.17 Rupert agrees with Jay’s suggestion that there is a lot of mythology around him which needs to be debunked.
10.16 Rupert is asked about his tweets, he says “I’d rather – oh don’t take my tweets too seriously.”
10.16 Jay asks Rupert about an interview with William Shawcross in Time magazine, in which Rupert says a government should be as libertarian as possible, with as few rules as possible. Rupert replies:
Clearly there are necessary rules. But they can be overdone.
10.14 Rupert is asked about his philosophy of business:
All my interests – whether intuitive or otherwise – have been confined to the media. Long-term I think you’re absolutely right, in terms of everything I’ve done… is very long-term in view, and sometimes I’ve been right, and sometimes I’ve been wrong, at great cost.
Jay: Can I ask you about your political philosophy? Would it be true that you have always been a great admirer of Baroness Thatcher?
Yes, I became that after she was elected. And I remain a great admirer.
10.13 When asked about the need for the inquiry, Rupert admits there were some “abuses”.
Jay asks whether the abuses go further than phonehacking. Rupert replies “Oh they go further”.
10.12 Jay puts to Rupert rumours that he hasn’t forgiven David Cameron for setting up the inquiry. Rupert says these rumours are untrue.
10.11 Jay has begun questioning Rupert about the company. He checks with Rupert that 8% of News Corp’s revenue is generated in the UK, of that 60% are generated by News International, the publisher of his UK titles. Rupert agrees.
10.10 Leveson is asking that Rupert be helped with sifting through bundles of evidence when necessary.
10.06 Lord Justice Leveson is giving a short introductory speech about yesterday’s revelations [our emphasis]:
For my part, I shall approach the relationship between the press and politicians from an entirely non-partisan judicial perspective… I would hope that this approach will be made clear. When I said those words, I had in mind some of the evidence that I anticipated we would hear, including that which we did hear yesterday. In light of the reaction and considerable commentary… it’s appropriate for me to say a little more…
I am acutely aware from considerable experience that documents such as these cannot always be taken at face value and can frequently bear more than one interpretation. I am absolutely not taking sides or expressing any opinion but I am prepared to say that it is very important to hear every side of the story before drawing conclusions. In due course we will hear all the relevant evidence from all the relevant witnesses…
In the meantime although I have seen requests for other inquiries… it seems to be that the better course is to allow this inquiry to proceed.
10.00 Rupert has arrived but the inquiry has not yet begun. In the meantime, Jim Pickard from our Westminster team has produced a brilliant primer on the most damaging emails released by James Murdoch yesterday.
09.45 Yesterday’s revelations at Leveson around News Corp’s relationship with the office of Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, shocked both those in the inquiry room – where audible gasps were heard at certain key moments – and outside, with Westminster left reeling from the exposure of the apparently chummy intimacy between lobbyists and government officials.
The big question now is whether Rupert Murdoch will go even further, and what potential bombshells he may drop about his personal relationship and influence within the British political class over his many decades of media ownership.
When Rupert appeared before the House of Commons’ media select committee last July, he appeared at times frail, and it will be interesting to see how he fares under today’s prolonged questioning, and without his son James at his side.
We’ll be liveblogging throughout the day, but you can also watch the inquiry here.