John Major Says Rupert Murdoch Threatened Him to Change Policy on Europe

 Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

LONDON -- Former British Prime Minister John Major said here Tuesday that News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch in 1997 asked him to change his policy on Europe.

Speaking at the Leveson Inquiry into the relationships among media, politicians, police and the public, Major said the mogul told him ahead of the elections that year, "I would like you to change your policy, and if you don't change your policy, my organization cannot support you."

He added that Murdoch used the word "we" when referring to his papers instead of making a "nod to editorial independence."

Suggesting that Murdoch was "edging toward" a British referendum on leaving the European Union, Major said, "I made no change in policy, and Mr. Murdoch's titles did indeed oppose the Conservative Party," which Major led back then. "It came as no surprise to me when soon after our meeting that the Sun newspaper announced its support for [the] Labour [Party]."

Murdoch earlier this year told the Leveson Inquiry, "I have never asked a prime minister for anything."

His company reiterated Tuesday that it wasn't striking deals with politicians. "News International titles did not act in unison in the 1997 election," News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper unit said in a statement. "The Sunday Times supported John Major, The Times was neutral, and The Sun and News of the World supported Labour.”
 
Major also said in his appearance Tuesday that Murdoch has "excessive influence" over his papers' editorial output and that "parts of his media empire have lowered" the quality of the British media. "They have lowered the tone."

Major suggested that media owners and editors could be made personally liable for content of their publications.

While he said freedom of the press was key, he called for "counterbalancing requirements" to protect the liberty of the individual.

Asked if he hadn't been particularly sensitive about media coverage about his time in office, Major said, "I wouldn't deny that at all." He added: "I was too sensitive. The press to me at the time was a source of wonder."

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai
 

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