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Leveson Inquiry: I am not a Sun King, says Rupert Murdoch

By Sam Marsden, Ellen Branagh and Ella Pickover

Rupert Murdoch has rejected suggestions that he is a "Sun King" figure who uses his charisma to exert his authority over his worldwide media empire.

Giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards he dismissed the characterisation of his managerial style in the new 2011 preface to former Times and Sunday Times editor Sir Harold Evans's memoir Good Times, Bad Times.

Sir Harold wrote: "How much Rupert Murdoch knew and when he knew it may not be pinned down because he exercises what the sociologist Max Weber defined as 'charismatic authority', where policy derives from how the leader is perceived by others rather than by instructions or traditions."

Mr Murdoch said he runs News Corp "with a great deal of decentralisation".

"I try very hard to set an example of ethical behaviour and make it quite clear that I expect it," he told the inquiry.

"One can describe that in a number of ways. But do I do it via an aura or charisma? I don't think so."

Mr Murdoch also denied claims that he used his titles to promote his business interests.

He said: "I take a particularly strong pride in the fact that we have never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers."

Asked about his negotiations around the Times and Sunday Times newspapers, which he bought from the Thomson family in 1981, Mr Murdoch said: "Let's face it, if an editor is sending a newspaper broke, it's the responsibility of the proprietor to step in for the sake of the journalists, for the sake of everybody.

"And particularly his responsibility to his many thousands of shareholders. That did not apply to the Thomsons, which was private."

Earlier he had told Lord Leveson that he plans to "put some myths to bed" during his evidence.

The 81-year-old said rumours he had not forgiven Prime Minister David Cameron for setting up the inquiry were untrue.

He said he welcomed the probe: "I think the need is fairly obvious, there have been some abuses shown. I would say there have been many other abuses but we can all go into that in time.

"The state of the media in this country is of absolutely vital interest to all its citizens.

"Frankly I welcome the opportunity because I wanted to put some myths to bed."

Mr Murdoch admitted he was a "great admirer" of Baroness Thatcher - who the Sun supported in the election of 1979.

Asked by Robert Jay QC, counsel for the inquiry, about tweets suggesting he had a "hostile approach to right-wingers and toffs", the billionaire replied: "Don't take my tweets too seriously.

"I think I was really saying that the extremists on both sides were piling in on me."

At the start of today's hearing at London's Royal Courts of Justice, Lord Justice Leveson said he would "hear every side of the story" about Jeremy Hunt's involvement in News Corporation's BSkyB bid before drawing any conclusions.

The inquiry heard evidence from Mr Murdoch's son James yesterday suggesting the Culture Secretary secretly backed the proposed takeover and leaked inside information to the media giant.

Jeremy Hunt: Leveson will hear all sides of the story

Lord Justice Leveson said that he will "hear every side of the story" about Jeremy Hunt's involvement in News Corporation's BSkyB bid before drawing any conclusions.

His press standards inquiry heard evidence yesterday suggesting that the Culture Secretary secretly backed the proposed takeover and leaked inside information to the media giant.

James Murdoch was questioned about a 163-page dossier of emails detailing contacts between Mr Hunt's office and News Corp director of public affairs Frederic Michel.

Lord Justice Leveson said today: "I understand entirely the reason for some of the reaction to the evidence yesterday and, in particular, to the emails about which Mr Murdoch was asked.

"But 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 I will hear the relevant evidence from all the relevant witnesses, and when I report I will then make the findings that are necessary for me to fulfil the terms of reference that the Prime Minister set for me."

Lord Justice Leveson, a respected Court of Appeal judge appointed to chair the public inquiry, stressed he would take an impartial view of the evidence.

He said: "I shall approach the relationship between the Press and politicians from an entirely non-partisan judicial perspective, which I have no doubt is the reason that I was given this remit."

The Leveson Inquiry has a wide-ranging remit to examine the culture, practices and ethics of the Press, and make recommendations for the future regulation of British newspapers.

It has already taken evidence on unethical and possibly illegal behaviour by journalists, and on relations between police and newspapers.

The inquiry is now turning to contacts between politicians and the national Press.

Leveson: Explosive BSkyB emails could sink culture chief Hunt

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's cabinet career hangs in the balance after it was revealed that his office was secretly passing information to the Murdochs during their £7.5bn bid to take over BSkyB.

Demands for his resignation were sparked after hundreds of pages of explosive emails, released by News Corp to the Leveson Inquiry, showed that his political advisers engaged in intimate and frequent briefing of the Murdochs' chief lobbyist to help get the deal through — despite Mr Hunt's claim to have acted impartially in his exercise of quasi-judicial powers.

One email quoted Mr Hunt saying “we'd get there in the end” and that he “shared” News Corp's objective of taking over the broadcaster.

Another email, sent by News Corp's lobbyist the day before Mr Hunt made a statement to Parliament on the bid, drew gasps when it was read out at the inquiry: “Managed to get some infos on the plans for tomorrow (although absolutely illegal...!)”

In a day of dramatic revelations at the inquiry, where James Murdoch gave evidence under oath, it also emerged that:

l Mr Murdoch did discuss News Corp's bid for BSkyB with the Prime Minister over Christmas dinner at the Oxfordshire home of Rebekah Brooks — contradicting Downing Street's previous denials.

l Emails sent by James Murdoch's lobbyist Fred Michel show that Mr Hunt's office would regularly update News Corp on the progress of its bid and how to get it past the regulators — sometimes speaking several times a day, and once even delaying the Culture Secretary's trip to the ballet.

l The Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, showed enthusiasm in supporting the bid. The emails suggest he linked his backing with a request to Mr Murdoch to “smooth the way” for The Sun newspaper to support the Scottish National Party.

l News Corp threatened Mr Hunt that it would withdraw the bid if he did not hurry things along. “JH repeated he was definitely keen to see this through as quickly as possible.”

The emails directly contradicted assurances that Mr Hunt had given the House of Commons that he was acting as an independent adjudicator of the bid in a quasi-judicial role, Labour said.

Labour leader Ed Miliband and deputy Harriet Harman called on Mr Hunt to resign.

The Prime Minister will now face awkward questioning at the Leveson Inquiry over his 2010 meeting with James Murdoch.

Belfast Telegraph


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