Blair denies being too close to Murdoch

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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday gave evidence at a public inquiry into the ethics and behavior of the British press and said that he had never done a deal with media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair leaves after giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics at the High Court in central London on May 28, 2012. [Xinhua]

Former British prime minister Tony Blair leaves after giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics at the High Court in central London on May 28, 2012. [Xinhua]

Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, denied being too close to Murdoch, head of News Corporation (NC).

NC owns substantial and influential parts of the British media including market leader newspapers, the daily The Sun, the weekly Sunday Times, and the now-defunct Sunday The News of the World, as well as the principal satellite TV provider BSkyB.

Blair spoke at the Leveson Inquiry, a judicial inquiry set up by Prime Minister David Cameron after revelations that The News of the World had hacked the phone of a schoolgirl murder victim.

Questioning touched on Blair's relationship with Murdoch.

"I would describe my relationship to him as a working relationship until I left office," said Blair, adding that it was after he left office in 2007 that he became a godparent to one of Murdoch's children.

Blair said he had taken a strategic decision to manage the worst excesses of the British press rather than confront them.

To take on the media would "have been an absolute major confrontation and you would have virtually every corner of the media against you. The price you would pay for that would push out the things I cared more about," he said.

He added that British media groups had "a substantial power," and that after his Labor Party had been defeated in four consecutive general elections, he had to take this into consideration.

"Their power is significant. They have readerships of three to four million," he said, adding that they had to be taken into account by any party leader interested in winning power.

As Blair gave evidence, a protester broke into the guarded courtroom, through a secure corridor.

The protester, who afterwards said he was opposed to the 2003 Iraq War, shouted, "This man should be arrested for war crimes; the man is a war criminal."

He was taken away by police and security guards, and later arrested, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Service said.

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Monday to protest. Blair's appearances at public inquiries in Britain have become the focus for public anger and protest over the Iraq War.

Hundreds of protesters gathered for Blair's appearance at the beginning of 2011 in front of a judicial inquiry into the Iraq War, and his evidence inside the inquiry was met with heckling of "liar" and "murderer."

There have been other disruptions recently of public inquiries in Britain when they involve high-profile figures.

An appearance by Murdoch at a House of Commons inquiry into press standards last year saw him being attacked by a protester who thrust a foam pie into his face, before being beaten off by his Chinese wife Wendy Murdoch.


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