Former British Prime Minister Says He Never Threatened News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch

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LONDON -- Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that he never felt like his government had the support of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and its tabloid The Sun and that he wasn't in regular contact with the mogul.

The Sun famously supported his predecessor Tony Blair and then backed Brown's rival Conservative Party in the last national election. Brown also said that he never threatened Murdoch for supporting his rival David Cameron as Murdoch recently suggested. "This call did not happen, the threat was not made," he said, adding he was "shocked" by Murdoch's claims. "There is absolutely no evidence for this phone call or for the threat or for the judgment that Mr. Murdoch made as a result of something that he was never party to."

Speaking at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics, Brown said the conglomerate had a "highly politicized [and] aggressive agenda" to change media regulation, which was driven by the mogul's son James Murdoch and which his party couldn't support, while the now-governing Conservative Party seemed willing to support it. Brown said his party defended "what I believed was the public interest."

He particularly referenced a major industry speech that James Murdoch gave in Edinburgh, Scotland, a few years ago where he called for an end to the BBC license fee, a reduction in power of media regulator Ofcom and what Brown called a plan to "neuter the BBC."

Brown said the speech was full of "breathtaking arrogance" and ambition and that Murdoch also suggested an end to the impartiality of news coverage.

But even before that, the former politician said he didn't feel much support from The Sun or other News Corp. media outlets. "At no time over three years … did I ever feel I had the support of The Sun," he said, referencing attacks on his government. "I want to suggest to you that the commercial interests of News International were very clear long before [The Sun's formal backing of Cameron], and they had support from the Conservative Party."

He also told the inquiry he had "very few dealings with [Rupert] Murdoch" and News International but said he understands and respects Murdoch's background.

In a more philosophical excursion on the state of the media, Brown on Monday also suggested a potential sharing of the BBC license fee to support and fund quality journalism.

One key problem of the U.K. media landscape is the "conflation of fact and opinion" and "tendency to editorialize." He also said that there was a need to "defend the privacy of the family."

Amid concern about the decline of journalistic standards in the Internet age, "we must [find] a way to incentivize the good," he said.

Brown also was asked about a Sun story about his son's health issue that caused much debate. Former Sun editor and News Corp. U.K. newspaper unit CEO Rebekah Brooks had said the paper had the green light from Brown's wife to write about the son's condition. But Brown said Monday that was not the case.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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