11 Jun 2012

LIVE BLOG: George Osborne at the Leveson inquiry

This morning former prime minister Gordon Brown gives evidence to the Leveson inquiry into media standards, followed by Chancellor George Osborne this afternoon. Add your voice to the live blog.

16.10 George Osborne finishes his testimony to the inquiry, ending today’s hearing.

16.03 George Osborne: I think virulence of the press is part of the hallmark of a vigorous press.

16.00 There is generally the view that remedies are arrived at from the Press Complaints Commission they are not equal to the harm that has been caused by the initial coverage.

15.59 Mr Osborne agrees that the UK’s defamation laws are not a satisfactory recourse for people who feel they have been libelled. Actions are too expensive for example.

15.54 Osborne now being grilled about his relationship with The Times’ Daniel Finkelstein (@Dannythefink)

15.53 Osborne says he became good friends with Andy Coulson and remains a friend, “though I haven’t been able to speak to him for a year”.

15.52 Mr Osborne’s comments that the Sun is not as powerful as it is perceived to be reflects similar comments from Rupert Murdoch.

15.50 George Osborne says the recruitment of the Sun and other News International titles, was part of a wider strategy to garner support from the right-leaning press.

15.48 To what extent was Andy Coulson responsible for bringing on side the Sun? “He was successful to the extent he was the director of communications. I think you could win an election without the backing of the Sun,” Mr Osborne tells the inquiry.

15.45 Osborne stressing that Andy Coulson was hired because he was “the best candidate for the job” although Mr Osborne was clear how controversial the appointment would be.

15.44 Robert Jay: Did you know this would be a controversial appointment (of Andy Coulson)? GO: Yes.

15.38 Osborne: We didn’t hire Andy Coulson because he had connections to News International and his appointment was considered by a number of other people.

15.18 Mr Osborne deflects questions on legal advice on the Hunt appointment, saying it was a question for the prime minister or cabinet secretary.

15.15 Mr Osborne reveals permanent secretary Jeremy Heywood suggested moving the BSkyB bid responsibility to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. He added that it took ‘less than a hour to appoint Jeremy Hunt to oversee the BSkyB bid.

15.08 Mr Osborne said Mr Harrison had acted properly in his role as adviser. He said it was a regular occurrence for people top be lobbied in this manner.

15.00 Mr Osborne is talking about the relationship between special adviser Mr Harrison and News International’s Mr Michelle in 2010. When the BSkyB bid topic arose, Mr Harrison was polite in brushing Mr Michel off.

14.55 Mr Osborne talks about the BSkyB bid, which he said would be “politically inconvenient”. He denies knowing the views of his colleagues on the BSkyB bid. He says he believes Mr Cameron also saw the bid as a political inconvenience

14.48 GO said he couldn’t remember a conversation at dinner with Ms Brooks. She has previously said that he was confused by the Ofcom issues that they talked about.

14.35 Mr Osborne said he remembers a discussion with James Murdoch in 2010 in which followed the decision to freeze rather than remove the BBC licence fee. He said he recalled Mr Murdoch was “quite angry about it”

14.34 1434: Mr Osborne says he and David Cameron “tried to bring conversation onto domestic politics but Rupert Murdoch wanted to talk global economics”.

14.33 George Osborne says he trusts the public would make a judgement on whether or not a newspaper was telling the truth if it was not publishing criticism of a government which was unpopular.

14.24 Referring to the relationship between lobby journalists and MPs Mr Osborne says that, “As long as you are relatively careful not to say things you wouldn’t want to see on the front pages of the newspaper, you’ll be OK.”

14.15 George Osborne: The significance of a story is massively inflated if it’s at the top of one of the news shows. Talks about how for example, if the BBC has a Panorama special report, it is likely to put that as the top story on its radio news programmes, “which gives the impression it’s the most important news story in Britain today”.

14.13 “Do you feel that the fusion of news and comment?” asks Robert Jay. “I feel that this is a bit of a blind alley,” says Mr Osborne.

13.00 Inquiry adjourns for lunch.

12.51 Mr Brown says when the phone hacking issue became an issue, he asked civil servant Gus McDonnell ‘to look at it”

12.44 Mr Brown says the civil service and politicians must work out a way to work with the press, and he “welcomes openness”.

Read more: Brown attacks Sun at Leveson inquiry

12.35 Damian McBride was “a career civil servant” and only became a political adviser in 2005, says Mr Brown.

12.29:Mr Brown says the people who worked for him were working “under specific guidance” – and when they did not do this, they had to go, – as in the case of special adviser Damian McBride.

12.27 Robert Jay QC: Were your aides involved in briefing against Blair when he was PM? GB: I would hope not. I have no evidence of that.

12.14 Mr Brown discusses the information commissioner’s proposals on data protection during his time in office. He said his own instinct was that there should be a public interest defence in all press coverage.

12.08 Mr Brown says Mr Dacre was very kind during the difficult time with his first child, “I have not forgotten that”.

12.03 GB: Daily Mail was against Labour Party on every issue except the euro.

12.02 GB is asked about his relationship with the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre: “I had no support from the Daily Mail”.

11.58 GB wrote to Rupert Murdoch to ask why he thought the war in Afghanistan was wrong.

11.48 GB denies ‘waging war’ on News International after the Sun withdrew its support for Labour. “This did not happen”

11.45 Gordon Brown denies having Rupert Murdoch’s phone number on his mobile phone, “or any other newspaper proprietor”

11.30 The inquiry takes a five minute break.

11.29 Now coming to the story about his behaviour around the time of his first conference speech.

11.26 Several times during his evidence, Gordon Brown has pointed the finger at James Murdoch for his “aggressive” approach to pushing News International’s interests.

11.24 Robert Jay: Do you think there are any lessons to be learned from the relationship that Labour had with the media?
GB: We should have reformed the system whereby stories are given to a small number of reporters rather than made public in parliament first. That is because of the lobby system and is still going on.

11.21 I don’t think Mr Murdoch was interested in what I was doing, I don’t remember having many meetings with him, says Gordon Brown.

11.19 Gordon Brown pays tribute to Rupert Murdoch’s business skills and success and thinks his achievements may not be matched.

11.17 Robert Jay: Lord Mandelson said relations with News International were “closer than was wise”.
GB: I normally think that Mr Mandelson is quite perception about these sorts of things but I think that comment is “faintly ridiculous” and nonsense.

11.11 Gordon Brown: “I was accused of buying a flat in an under the counter sale by the Sunday Times, and they would not accept that this flat that I was supposed to have bought at a knocl-down price without it being put on the open market, was advertised in the Sunday Times itself.”
He says blagging techniques were used to get information on the sale, including someone impersonating him and that there was no public interest in publishing this story.

11.05 GB: “At no point in my premiership would I allow the public interset to be subjugated to the private interest of any one company”.

11.01 Why did Sarah Brown stay friends with Rebekah Brooks after this? GB: “Sarah is one of the most forgiving people I know”.

10.59 Gordon Brown denies permission was given for the Sun to publish the story about his son having cystic fibrosis. He also denies that he and his wife did not wait some time before making a complaint about it. “The idea that we did nothing about this is wrong and in fact offensive.”

10.54 In 2006, the Sun claimed to have a story from a “man in the street” whose child had cystic fibrosis, and at the time, Mr Brown said he and his wife Sarah did not know for sure their son had the condition. They had an apology from the health authority because it emerged that a member of staff had passed on this information to the paper.
“I don’t think that information on any child’s health, especially one who is only four months old, should be published, ” says Mr Brown.

10.49 Mr Brown says changes to the UK media demanded by News Corp including “neutering” of Ofcom and lifting of restrictions on advertising were backed by the Conservative party.

10.46 Gordon Brown denies that Labour had the support of the Sun during his time as prime minister and says the paper started a campaign against them as soon as he became premier.

10.31 Mr Brown says the problem has been the “conflation of fact and opinion,” “a tendency [by newspapers] to editorialise outside editorial content.”

10.28 Gordon Brown starts his evidence with a joke: “I’ve had a period of enforced reflection.. you might say thanks to the British people.” He continues: “And the media not only has a right but has a duty to shine a torch on dark, secret unaccountable… power. I would defend the right of the media to exercise freedom, even when there’s a political bias.”

10.26 Gordon Brown begins giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry into media standards.

This morning former prime minister Gordon Brown gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry into media standards, followed by Chancellor George Osborne. Add your voice to the live blog window above or via Twitter @Channel4News.

Leveson inquiry – Gordon Brown and George Osborne