25 Apr 2012

Murdoch ‘never asked a prime minister for anything’

Rupert Murdoch’s 4 wheel drive screeched into the High Court, snappers shouting “f-ing hell” as it whizzed by their feet at unconventional speed.

On the stand he’s been a bit brighter and perkier than his “most humbling moment of my life” appearance at the Culture Select Committee last year. “Don’t take my tweets too seriously,” he said.

More tantalisingly he then said (not pursued by the QC questioning) that “extremists on both sides were piling in on me.” Maybe we’ll hear more later about that slightly paranoid sounding remark.

The Rupert Murdoch celebrated long pauses are still in action. Editors over the years have described them as strategic and often lethal as whoever was talking to him might feel the need to fill the silence and gabble fatuously.

The first sally of the QC is on whether Rupert M used his newspaper influence (The Sun and the News of the World) to lobby Margaret Thatcher personally at Chequers in favour of his bid for Times newspapers back in 1981, and whether he, Rupert M, misrepresented the whole Times group as loss-making when the Sunday Times was profitable. 

Rupert Murdoch said the Times group numbers were “entwined.” He also said he had absolutely no memory of the lunch having taken place, but went on to say that he remembered Margaret Thatcher needed telling that the titles were under threat of closure if he didn’t buy them.

At one point, in a manner reminiscent of the select committee appearance when Rupert M gave resonant short sound bites that sounded like they’d been well-rehearsed, he said: “I never asked a Prime Minister for anything.” The Inquiry QC responded suggesting that wielding influence “operates differently” and is not handled so “undeftly” or “cack-handedly.”

Rupert Murdoch just said: “I take a particular pride that we have never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers.” The “I-Sky” column in “Private Eye,” listing constant references bigging up Sky’s output in Murdoch papers, would presumably come as a bit of a shock.

Jeremy Hunt will now give a statement to the Commons at 12.30pm. Already a shift from where he tried to set things last night when he hoped for respite until an early appearance at the Leveson Inquiry to put forward his case.

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