Phone hacking: `Press-politics link inevitable`

Former British prime minister Tony Blair told a press ethics inquiry that he got too close to Rupert Murdoch`s media empire.

London: As one of the major beneficiaries of political support from media baron Rupert Murdoch, former Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday said he got too close to Rupert Murdoch`s media empire and it was `inevitable` for journalists and politicians to have a relationship, but it became a problem when it was `wrong`.

Appearing before the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, ethics and practices of the press, Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, said the news media occupied much of his attention during his time in office.

He had likened the news media to a `feral beast` before leaving office.
Blair`s deposition in the court was interrupted by a protestor who called him a `war criminal` for his actions in Iraq and Afghanistan as prime minister.

"I decided as a political leader that I was going to manage that (the news media) and not confront it", Blair said.

During his tenure as prime minister, Blair was accused of relying much on spin through his director of communications, Alistair Campbell.

Blair said he chose to `manage` the news media rather than `confront` them, on the ground that if he had confronted them and initiated efforts to change relevant policy, it would have sparked off a major confrontation and would have pushed major issues off the agenda.

"My view is you would have had to have cleared the decks. This would have been an absolute major confrontation.

The price you would pay for that would actually push out a lot of the things I cared more about", he said.

Blair, who is godfather to one of Murdoch`s children, said he did not reach any deal, implied or not, for the support of the Murdoch media during his 13-year tenure in office.

In fact, he said, "when it came to their media interests we more often decided against them".
On the perception that the relationship between journalists and politicians had become too cosy, Blair said he preferred the word "unhealthy", since it was a better description of the relationship in some cases.

"I can`t believe we are the first and only government that has ever wanted to put the best possible gloss on what we`re doing, that is a completely different thing to saying that you go out to say things that are deliberately untrue," he said.


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