David Cameron Grilled Over Murdoch Ties

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron spent the Thursday being grilled over the nature of his relationship with media magnate Rupert Murdoch. He dismissed as "nonsense" the suggestion that they had made tacit deals to look after one another's interests.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. British Prime Minister David Cameron took the hot seat today. He was grilled under oath before a panel he created less than a year ago.

The Leveson inquiry is investigating the murky relationship between Britain's media, its politicians and police. The inquiry was sparked by allegations that a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid had hacked into the phone of a murdered schoolgirl.

Vicki Barker reports from London.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: First of all, Mr. Cameron, your full name, please.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: David William Donald Cameron.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: David Cameron created the Leveson inquiry at the height of the phone hacking scandal. Beyond the privacy violations, the scandal also raised broader questions about whether Rupert Murdoch and other media figures exercised an unhealthy influence over Britain's police and politicians.

Today, Cameron found himself answering pointed questions about his own relationship with Rupert Murdoch, his son James and the Murdoch protege, Rebekah Brooks. Lead attorney Robert Jay read aloud a 2009 email to Cameron from Brooks, then editor of Murdoch's Sun tabloid and married to an old Etonian friend of Cameron. Cameron was still Britain's opposition leader. He was about to deliver a big speech before his Conservative Party's annual conference.

ROBERT JAY: I'm so rooting for you tomorrow, not just as a personal friend, but because, professionally, we're definitely in this together. Speech of your life, question mark. Yes, he can, exclamation mark.

BARKER: In explanation, Cameron said the Sun had just switched its allegiance from the governing Labour Party to the Conservatives and Brooks was expressing a shared ideological vision.

Documents accompanying Cameron's testimony show that, in the five years before he became prime minister in 2010, Cameron met Rupert Murdoch at least 10 times, James Murdoch 15 times, Rebekah Brooks 19 times. But he called allegations of some secret deal to reward Murdoch once in office utter nonsense.

CAMERON: There was a conservative politician, me, trying to win over newspapers, trying to win over television, trying to win over proprietors, but not trading policies for that support.

BARKER: In fact, both parties have had to fend off accusations of getting too cozy with the Murdoch media empire, but coming into today's testimony, David Cameron had the most to lose. His coalition government has been trailing the Labour Party in opinion polls.

Mary Ann Sieghart is a reporter for the Independent newspaper. She says this is not the best time for ordinary, recession-hit Britains to be reminded just how often the Brooks' and the Camerons were in and out of each other's country estates, at least until both Rebekah and her husband Charlie Brooks were arrested by police investigating the phone hacking scandal.

MARY ANN SIEGHART: The sense that Rebekah Brooks and David Cameron are in it together is not what he is going to want voters to think when she goes to court next.

BARKER: In today's testimony, Cameron acknowledged that the relationship between politicians and the media had become too close and had been doing so for the past 20 years. The answer, he said, probably lies in better regulation and a bit more distance.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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