Cameron Defends Integrity Before British Parliament

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to defend his integrity Wednesday as Parliament debated the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World. The opposition wanted to know why Cameron had hired a former editor at the newspaper as his media adviser — a man who left the paper because of the scandal and who has since been arrested by police. Cameron defended his decision and refused to apologize amid rowdy scenes in the House of Commons.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And we turn now to the scandal rocking Rupert Murdoch's media empire. Today, the spotlight fell on Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, as he cut short a visit to Africa. Cameron flew back to London to address Parliament about what's become the biggest controversy in British public life in years. NPR's Philip Reeves has the story.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

PHILIP REEVES: This is the biggest crisis to face David Cameron since he took power.

Unidentified Man: Order, order. Can I just remind...

REEVES: Today he faced a raucous Parliament. Cameron opened with a statement spelling out the scale of the scandal.

Prime Minister DAVID CAMERON (United Kingdom): It has shaken people's trust in the media and the legality of what they do, in the police and their ability to investigate media malpractice, and, yes, in politics and in politicians' ability to get to grips with these issues.

REEVES: Cameron listed measures he's taking to create healthier relations between the media, police, and politicians, including a wide-ranging judicial inquiry.

These are difficult times, however, for Britain's prime minister. He's under fire over hiring an ex-editor of the News of the World, the paper where, we now know, there was widespread phone hacking. That editor, Andy Coulson, was Cameron's communications chief before resigning a few months back. Coulson was recently arrested over hacking allegations.

Cameron insisted Coulson assured him he knew nothing about phone hacking and said that if that turned out not to be true...

Prime Minister CAMERON: He will not only have lied to me, but he would have lied to the police, to a select committee, to the Press Complaints Commission, and, of course perjured himself in a court of law. More to the point, if that comes to the pass, he could also expect to face severe criminal charges.

REEVES: Cameron said he believes people are innocent until proven guilty but added:

Prime Minister CAMERON: With 20-20 hindsight and all that has followed, I would not have offered him the job, and I expect that he wouldn't have taken it. But you don't make decisions in hindsight, you make them in the present. You live and you learn and, believe you me, I have learnt.

REEVES: Cameron's chief opponent, David Miliband, leader of Britain's Labour Party, was not impressed.

Mr. DAVID MILIBAND (Leader, Labour Party): That isn't good enough.

REEVES: Cameron had made a catastrophic error of judgment, Miliband said. Yet, this scandal has crossed party lines. Miliband conceded his own Labour Party was far too cozy with Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

Mr. MILIBAND: Why didn't more of us speak out about this earlier? The answer is, of course, what we all know and used to be afraid to say: News International was too powerful. It owned 40 percent of the newspaper market before the closure of the News of the World. It owns two-thirds of the paid TV market, through 39 percent of the Sky platform and Sky News.

REEVES: One question kept coming up. It was about the satellite TV company BSkyB. Murdoch was trying to acquire total control of this company, making him Britain's biggest broadcaster, but he withdrew his bid after the phone hacking scandal broke.

It's now known Cameron had many meetings with people from Murdoch's News International and is close to some them. Today, Cameron was asked one question again and again, this time by Labour veteran Dennis Skinner.

Mr. DENNIS SKINNER (Labour Party): Did he ever discuss the question of the BSky bid with News International at all the meetings that they attended?

Prime Minister CAMERON: I never had one inappropriate conversation.

(Soundbite of crowd shouting)

Prime Minister CAMERON: And let me be clear...

REEVES: That question will likely be examined by the judicial inquiry that Cameron said will start right away.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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