Olympics 2012: London Mayor Defends Invitation to News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch & Wendi Deng

Murdoch and Deng after their 1996 wedding.

"Stop demonizing him," Boris Johnson says as critics say the politician should keep his distance from the media mogul.


LONDON –- London mayor Boris Johnson on Friday defended his decision to invite media mogul and News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch to a Friday swimming event at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

After news that Johnson would be joined by Murdoch and wife Wendi Deng Murdoch along with about 20 other leading businessmen at Friday's swimming finals at the Aquatic Center in the Olympic Park, some critics felt it was a case of political and media power being too close. The Leveson Inquiry into the relationship between the media, politics and the public has explored similar themes here.

Critics also pointed to the latest developments in the phone hacking scandal that News Corp.'s U.K. publishing arm News International has been embroiled in. Late Thursday, the London Metropolitan Police formally charged Rebekah Brooks, the former CEO of News International.

It made official the charges announced last week against the long-time Murdoch ally.

But Johnson told a BBC London news reporter Friday that everyone should remember Murdoch is just one of a slew of businessmen he is hosting at the Games to help push the British capital as a business destination. "Stop demonizing him," Johnson said. "He's a big employer in this city."

He also noted that Murdoch was "not a convicted criminal," describing the invitation to the mogul and his wife as perfectly natural.

But Len Duvall, leader of the Labour Party in the London Assembly, said: "There are serious questions as to the appropriateness of Boris Johnson taking Mr. Murdoch to the Olympics. An internal City Hall investigation is still underway after it was discovered the mayor had failed to declare meetings with Mr. Murdoch. I do not think it is appropriate for the mayor to be entertaining Mr. Murdoch in this way."

Johnson has described the Olympic Games in the British capital as a "gigantic schmoozathon" to "shamelessly promote" London to investors and other groups.

The Guardian suggested that Johnson may seek some face time with Murdoch to get his support for a possible run for the Prime Minister job.

Political observers here have long thought that the conservative Johnson has bigger career plans, such as a possible push to take over for conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

The debate about the Olympics invite for Murdoch came on the same day as media reports said that British culture minister Jeremy Hunt, another politician who has been hauled through the press over his relationship with News Corp. earlier this year, won't get an Olympics freebie.

With the British media currently awash with stories about empty corporate seats and ticketing mess-ups that have left venues sparsely attended despite much public demand, it emerged Hunt had to pay a handsome sum for his closing ceremony tickets.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Olympics organizers Locog made Hunt pay £2,400 ($3,744) for the prestigious tickets. Hunt said: "I said I'll take seats between £20 ($31) and £600 ($936) and I got four for £600 each. I thought to myself, the bastards have got me."