Jack Straw, the foreign secretary under former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, told an ethics inquiry triggered by News Corp.’s phone-hacking scandal that close ties with the media may damage a politician’s integrity.
“Every politician wants to have the best relationship they can with the press, because it’s the prism through which their work is perceived, but if you get too close, your own position becomes compromised and can undermine your integrity,” Straw said in testimony today in London.
Judge Brian Leveson, who is overseeing the inquiry, is examining the press’s relationship with politicians, celebrities and police. He heard testimony earlier this week from Blair’s press chief, Alastair Campbell, who said the ex-prime minister felt he had to deal with “right-wing” News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch to get his message across to the public.
The inquiry, triggered by widespread phone hacking at News Corp.’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid, is running parallel with police probes of News Corp. journalists that resulted in criminal charges being filed yesterday against Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive officer of News Corp.’s U.K. unit and a close friend of Murdoch.
Straw said he regularly sat next to Brooks on a commuter train to London and discussed politics and “gossip” about people in the news. He stopped sitting next to her in 2009, around the time she became CEO of News International, he said.
Brooks testified last week that she was friends with Prime Minister David Cameron and exchanged text messages with him. Cameron’s Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is facing calls from the opposition Labour party to resign, after e-mails produced as evidence at the Leveson inquiry showed an aide offered inside information on Hunt’s views to a News Corp. lobbyist when the company was offering 7.8 billion pounds ($12.4 billion) for full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.
“Everyone concedes it’s been an over-cozy relationship,” Leveson said today, referring the media’s ties to lawmakers in general.