Prime ministers come and go, Murdoch remains

Jun 13, 2012, 5:02 PM

Associated Press

LONDON (AP) – Prime Ministers come and go, but News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch stays and stays and stays.

Murdoch has played a key role in shaping British political coverage for the last four decades, and testimony at a judge-led inquiry into media ethics has highlighted how prime ministers have both courted and feared the 81-year-old media mogul.

His influence remains strong despite the phone hacking scandal at his newspapers that led to the ethics inquiry, and he retains his reputation as a potential kingmaker. He are some of his dealings with Britain’s prime ministers throughout the years:

HAROLD WILSON (1966-1970, 1974-1976)

Murdoch entered the British media scene in 1969, buying the Sunday tabloid News of the World and The Sun.

In January 1976, according to a recently discovered file in the National Archives, Murdoch approached Wilson seeking relief from wage controls. Murdoch wanted to buy new high-speed presses to handle the growing circulation of the two newspapers, but the wage controls prevented him from meeting union demands for higher pay. Wilson rebuffed Murdoch’s request.


“We had very good relations with him and with Mr. Wilson,” Murdoch told the inquiry, led by Justice Brian Leveson. However, Murdoch’s papers switched their support to the Conservatives led by Margaret Thatcher in the 1979 election, which Callaghan lost.

Callaghan was later involved in an unsuccessful bid for a staff buyout of The Times and The Sunday Times, which instead were acquired by Murdoch’s company, adding to his British media holdings.


Her government waived a regulatory review of monopoly issues and allowed Murdoch’s British newspaper company, News International, to purchase The Times and The Sunday Times. Woodrow Wyatt, a confidant of Thatcher and a columnist for News of the World, recorded in his diaries that “I had all the rules bent for (Murdoch).” Murdoch denies that he asked anyone to alter the rules in his favor, and says he doesn’t remember a lunch hosted by Thatcher before the decision was made.

“I didn’t expect any help from her, nor did I ask for any,” Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry.

JOHN MAJOR (1990-1997)

The Sun supported Major in the 1992 election and boasted of its impact on the vote in a famous headline: “It’s the Sun wot won it.”

However, Major told the Leveson Inquiry that three months before the 1997 election, Murdoch expressed disapproval of the government’s European policies, and said he would not support Major unless he changed direction. Murdoch says he has no memory of the meeting.

“I wasn’t an admirer of many of the things Mr. Murdoch did but … saving those newspapers and setting up that alternative television channel was a very substantial contribution to our national life,” Major testified.

TONY BLAIR (1997-2007)

Blair flew to Australia before the election, seeking and winning Murdoch’s support, which was crucial in helping his Labour Party break the Conservatives’ long run of electoral success.

“The minimum objective was to stop them tearing us to pieces and the maximum objective was, if possible, to open the way to support,” Blair told the inquiry.

Blair also testified: “There was no deal on issues to do with the media with Rupert Murdoch, or indeed with anybody else, either express or implied, and to be fair, he never sought such a thing.”

GORDON BROWN (2007-2010)

After The Sun declared it would not support Brown for re-election, ending its support of Labour in the post-Blair era, Murdoch said Brown telephoned and said: “Your company has declared war on my government and we have no alternative but to make war on your company.”

Brown told the Inquiry: “This call did not happen, this threat was not made.”

He bitterly accused Murdoch’s papers of undermining the British war effort in Afghanistan.


Relations with Murdoch’s empire have been problematic for Cameron. His government has been criticized for its handling of Murdoch’s bid to take full control of British Sky Broadcasting, and Cameron’s judgment has been questioned because of his hiring of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief.

Coulson resigned as the phone hacking scandal grew, and he has since been charged.

Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking and other media issues.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Prime ministers come and go, Murdoch remains