Gordon Brown’s bitter attack on Murdoch press
FORMER British prime minister Gordon Brown last night accused a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid of personally attacking him, failing the British people and undermining the war in Afghanistan through its coverage of the conflict.
In an often bitter attack on News International in testimony to Britain’s media ethics inquiry, Mr Brown directly contradicted Mr Murdoch’s claim that the then prime minister had made an abusive phone call to the media mogul in 2009.
The News Corporation chief executive and chairman told the inquiry last month that Mr Brown had vowed to “make war on your company” after The Sun switched its support to the Conservatives.
“It didn’t happen,” said Mr Brown, adding that he had been shocked to hear Mr Murdoch make the allegation under oath.
The former Labour prime minister is the first in a string of current and former political leaders to appear this week at the inquiry, set up amid a tabloid phone hacking scandal to examine malpractice in the media and ties between politicians, police and the press.
Mr Brown told the inquiry led by judge Brian Leveson that The Sun was guilty of “the conflation of fact and opinion” in its coverage of the Afghanistan conflict and of his premiership.
He said instead of covering the difficult decisions facing his government, The Sun had concluded “that I personally did not care about our troops in Afghanistan”.
He said the newspaper had made a series of spurious claims, for example, that he had fallen asleep during a service of remembrance. Mr Brown said he had been bowing his head in prayer.
He asserted The Sun’s coverage had done “huge damage” to the war effort.
The press had “failed this country” by focusing on opinions and ephemera when the war in Afghanistan was at a crucial stage, he said. “I’m afraid half the country (Afghanistan) is falling into the hands of the Taliban,” Mr Brown said, accusing the press of failing to reflect this.
The Sun’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, denied Mr Brown’s allegations, tweeting that the newspaper had given the conflict prominent coverage.
“Military loathed Brown because they felt he didn’t care about them. Sun reported that, but Gordon rewrites history to shoot the messenger,” he wrote.
Mr Brown had a testy relationship with the Murdoch press during his 2007-10 term in office. The Sun, renowned for its political clout, backed the Conservative party over Brown’s Labour in the 2010 national election.
Two years on, Mr Brown appeared bruised by his relationship with a press that often characterised him as prickly and awkward. Mr Brown spoke of his pain at seeing leaked details of his son’s health splashed in the tabloid. The Sun revealed in 2006 that Mr Brown’s infant son Fraser had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
Mr Brown said he and his wife Sarah had been distressed by the leak — which apparently came from a hospital worker — but he also acknowledged Sarah had remained friendly with Rebekah Brooks, The Sun’s then editor, and even organised a 40th birthday party for her in 2008.
“I think Sarah is one of the most forgiving people I know,” Mr Brown said. “I think she finds the good in everyone.”
Mrs Brooks, 44, along with her husband and four aides, was charged last month with conspiring to pervert the course of justice in connection with the phone hacking scandal.
They are the first people to be charged in the current investigation into tabloid wrongdoing, which has shaken Britain’s media, police and political establishments. More than 40 people have been arrested and questioned.
The ethics inquiry was set up last year after revelations that the now-defunct News of the World had hacked the mobile phone voicemails of scores of celebrities, politicians and even crime victims in its quest for scoops.
Chancellor George Osborne was due to testify late last night about his relationships with News International. Prime Minister David Cameron faces questioning on Thursday.
Mr Osborne will be asked about his role in hiring a former NOW editor, Andy Coulson, as communications chief for the Conservative Party. After Mr Cameron became prime minister, Coulson served as Downing Street communications chief before resigning due to the scandal.
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