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LONDON – The chairman of the BBC Trust, Chris Patten, told the phone-hacking inquiry Monday that British politicians had become too close to newspapers in general – and the Murdoch press in particular.
Patten – the former chairman of the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher, who went on to become the last British Governor of Hong Kong, told Lord Justice Leveson’s Inquiry that politicians from both the main political parties had become “overly influenced” by newspaper front pages.
“The problem is that politicians have allowed themselves to be kidded that editors and proprietors determine the fate of politicians,” he said.
“It is politicians who have been eagerly hitting the ball over the net…it happened when it became assumed that News International won elections,” he went on.
“Politicians allowed themselves to be convinced that editors have power over them…Over the last 20 years major political parties have demeaned themselves by the extent to which they have courted editors and proprietors.
The head of the BBC Trust went on to suggest that Rupert Murdoch was prepared to support political parties only when it was already clear they were already going to win.
“His (Murdoch’s) help is only available when you no longer need it.”
Patten memorably fell out with Rupert Murdoch when Harper Collins dropped plans to publish his memoir about being the final British governor of Hong Kong.
He reiterated his accusation that the book had been dropped as part of Murdoch’s plans to woo the Chinese government.
“Plainly Mr Murdoch took the view that publishing would harm his chances with the Chinese leadership,” Patten said.
But he denied he had “ a vendetta” against Murdoch, saying that without the News Corp. boss, Britain would have had fewer successful newspapers.
Patten’s comments came after the Inquiry heard from BBC director general Mark Thompson, who said that the BBC had spent more than $500,000 on private investigators – but had never been involved with phone hacking.
Thompson revealed that between 2005 and 2011 the BBC had used private investigators for a range of activities relating to a series about tracking down pedophiles and for a range of research for consumer programs.
But he said that following a review of the BBC’s practices there he had heard “no whisper or rumor or suggestion” that BBC journalists had ever hacked phones.
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