Former Prime Minister Tony Blair will appear before the U.K.’s media-ethics inquiry today to answer questions about his relationship with News Corp. (NWSA:US) Chairman Rupert Murdoch.
The probe, set up by Prime Minister David Cameron last year in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, is hearing testimony from politicians about how they dealt with the media. When Cameron announced the inquiry, he made a point of saying it would hear from members of the former ruling Labour Party as well as his own Conservatives. Blair will be questioned starting at 10 a.m. in London.
With Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt fighting for his job amid allegations he was too partial to News Corp. in its bid to take over British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc (BSY), the government is seeking to remind voters that both main parties sought to be close to Murdoch before the phone-hacking scandal that led News Corp. to shut its News of the World tabloid last year.
Blair courted Murdoch from the moment he became leader of the Labour Party in 1994. In 1995, he traveled to Australia to address News Corp. executives. Murdoch joked at the time that “I suspect we will end up making love like two porcupines -- very carefully.”
Murdoch’s Sun newspaper switched from the Conservatives to endorse Blair in the 1997 election, and Murdoch was an early visitor to Blair after his victory. The Sun backed Blair in the following two elections, and supported him in his most controversial decision, the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It switched back to the Conservatives in 2009, after Blair had left office.
In 2007, as he prepared to leave office, Blair gave a speech attacking the media for focusing on comment over news reporting, and referring to reporters as “feral beasts.”
The inquiry heard last week that Hunt had written Cameron a memo in November 2010, a month before he was given the task of adjudicating on the BSkyB bid, arguing that if the deal was blocked, “our media sector will suffer for years.”
Cameron defended Hunt, saying he believed the culture secretary carried out his role properly. Hunt will testify to the inquiry, headed by Judge Brian Leveson, on May 31.
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