Rebekah Brooks, the executive charged with trying to cover up phone hacking at News Corp. tabloids, asked former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s business secretary to stop lawmakers from “hounding” the company.
Peter Mandelson would call Brooks to complain about the way Brown was being portrayed in the company’s newspapers, he told an inquiry into media ethics in London today. In return, Brooks, the ex-chief executive officer of the New York-based company’s News International unit, would “come to me and complain that Tom Watson, or whoever it was on the Culture Media and Sport select committee, were hounding them and couldn’t they be pulled away,” he said.
The media-ethics panel, triggered by the phone-hacking scandal at News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid, is examining whether the relationship between reporters and public officials has gotten too close. Judge Brian Leveson, who is running the inquiry, has heard that Brooks and other executives at News Corp. hosted politicians at parties, weddings and on vacation.
Parties hosted by News Corp. and the family of Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch were considered “a great treat” for U.K. politicians, former Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said today.
“If you ask anybody, if they’re honest, would they like to go to a great party, the answer is yes, but importantly, is this my only chance to have a conversation with the prime minister?” Jowell told the inquiry today in London. “It is a great treat, but it doesn’t actually impinge on the way we make decisions.”
Jowell was responsible for overseeing a change in media-ownership rules, conducted while Tony Blair was prime minister, which made it possible for companies like News Corp. to expand. She said she declined an invitation to the wedding of Murdoch’s daughter, Elisabeth, while the review was under way.
The current culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is under investigation by a parliamentary watchdog over meetings with media companies. E-mails produced as evidence at the Leveson inquiry showed conversations between a former Hunt aide and a News Corp. lobbyist that shared confidential information on a review of the company’s attempt to purchase British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.
The aide, Adam Smith, and the lobbyist, Fred Michel, are scheduled to testify at the inquiry later this week.