x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Major says Murdoch sought policy change for backing

Former Uk PM claims media baron disliked pro-European stance.

LONDON // Rupert Murdoch warned the then-prime minister of Britain, John Major, that unless the government changed its pro-European policies, his newspapers would back the opposition Labour Party in a general election, an inquiry into British press standards heard yesterday.

Giving evidence to the inquiry headed by Lord Justice Sir Brian Leveson, Mr Major's testimony yesterday appeared to contradict evidence given by Mr Murdoch only two months ago.

In April, the media tycoon told the inquiry, which the government ordered after the phone-hacking scandal: "I have never asked a prime minister for anything. If any politician wanted my opinions on major matters, they only had to read the editorials in The Sun."

But Mr Major said yesterday that he had dinner with Mr Murdoch in February 1997, a few months before the general election that swept Tony Blair to office in a victory often attributed to The Sun switching its traditional backing for Mr Major's Conservatives to the Labour Party.

"Mr Murdoch said he really didn't like our European policies," Mr Major told the inquiry. "He wished me to change our European policies. If we couldn't change our European policies his papers could not, would not, support our Conservative government.

"As I recall he used the word 'we' when referring to his newspapers. He didn't make the usual nod to editorial independence."

Mr Major, who said he had invited Mr Murdoch to dinner on the advice of his aides because of the imminent election, said that the News Corp chairman appeared to favour a referendum on Britain leaving the European Union at the time.

The former PM, who succeeded Margaret Thatcher in 1990, said he made it clear "there was no question" of the government changing its pro-European policies at Mr Murdoch's behest.

dsapsted@thenational.ae