LONDON // Rupert Murdoch defended his globe-spanning, half-a-century long media career yesterday, telling an official inquiry into UK media ethics that he never gave his editors orders on who to back or used his political sway for financial gain.
Speaking softly, deliberately and with dry humour, Mr Murdoch parried one question after the other about the influence his dominant media operations had in lobbying lawmakers, setting the news agenda, favouring certain politicians and benefiting from allegedly sweetheart business deals.
"I've never asked a prime minister for anything," he said after being questioned whether he had asked then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to support his bid for the Times newspapers in 1981.
Mr Murdoch was being quizzed under oath before an inquiry run by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, who is examining the relationship between British politicians and the press, a key question emerging amid the phone hacking scandal that brought down Mr Murdoch's News of the World tabloid.
Revelations of widespread illegal behaviour at the top-selling Sunday publication rocked Britain's establishment with evidence of media misdeeds, police corruption and too-cosy links between the press and politicians.
Mr Murdoch issued a litany of denials at yesterday's session.
Asked whether he had set the political agenda for his UK editors, Mr Murdoch denied it.
"I've never given instructions to the Times or the Sunday Times," he said.
Asked whether he'd ever used his media influence to boost his business, he denied it.
"We've never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers," he said.
Asked whether standards at his papers declined when he took them over, he emphatically denied it.
"Absolutely not," he said. "The Sun has never been a better paper than it is today. I won't say the same of my competitors."