Records Show Britain’s Cameron Kept Close Ties to Murdoch Officials

Posted July 16th, 2011 at 10:15 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

In Britain, newly released records show that Prime Minister David Cameron has kept a close relationship with key executives from Rupert Murdoch's media empire at the center of a phone-hacking scandal.

Mr. Cameron has disclosed that he met 26 times with officials of Murdoch's News Corporation since becoming the country's leader 14 months ago, more than twice the number of visits the prime minister has had with any other media organization. The records showed that Rebekah Brooks, who resigned Friday as chief of Murdoch's British press operations, is the only person Mr. Cameron had invited twice to his weekend retreat Chequers.

The leader of Britain's Conservative government also hosted Andy Coulson at Chequers in March, two months after he left as the prime minister's spokesman. Coulson is the former editor of the News of the World tabloid that Murdoch closed a week ago and is at the center of allegations that journalists hacked into the cell phones of a murdered teenage girl, dead soldiers and others. Coulson was charged earlier this month with corruption and conspiring to intercept communications, one of nine arrested so far in the scandal.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was not surprising that in a democratic society there would be “some contact” between Britain's leader and media executives. But the opposition Labor Party said the frequent meetings showed Mr. Cameron's “extraordinary lack of judgment.”

The revelations of Mr. Cameron's contacts with Murdoch officials came as the 80-year-old tycoon embarked on an effort to apologize for the phone hacking and journalists' payments to police for information.

In a letter signed by Murdoch published in the British press Saturday, he says he and his international media conglomerate, News Corporation, are sorry “for the serious wrongdoing that occurred” and the “hurt suffered” by those affected by some of his journalists' widespread phone-hacking and payments to police for information.

The apologies come after Les Hinton resigned Friday from his post at the head of the U.S. media group Dow Jones Friday in the wake of the scandal, just hours after Brooks quit.

Dow Jones is owned by Murdoch's News Corporation. But Hinton's resignation is tied to his previous role overseeing News Corporation's British newspapers, including News of the World, while journalists there illegally accessed cell phone conversations.

Aside from closing News of the World, the firestorm over the scandal also has forced Murdoch to abandon efforts to push through a $12 billion bid for British Sky Broadcasting, a satellite television company.

Brooks has agreed to testify before the British Parliament next week about the scandal. Murdoch and his son, James, who heads News Corporation's international operations, will also testify before parliament next week, after initially refusing to do so.

In the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun a probe into whether News Corporation employees tried to hack into the phones of victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and their families, or tried to bribe police for information.