28 May 2012

Leveson Inquiry - Module 3 - Day 13 - Tony Blair

Media coverage - archives of articles relevant to Tony Blair:
Evening Standard
New York Times
Sky News - Tony Blair in Depth

Useful Links:
Leveson Inquiry Witness Statements HERE 
Leveson Inquiry Witness Lists HERE 

Video Recordings of each day's proceedings HERE

Live Feed From Leveson Inquiry Site HERE

BBC Democracy Live Feed HERE  
Guardian Politics Live Blog HERE
Guardian Leveson Inquiry Live Blog HERE

Previous Hearing (Adam Smith Part 2 and Jonathan Stephens ) HERE
Links to articles, information and comment relevant to the Inquiry:
Monday. May 28th:
@michaelpcurran , Twitter 9:33 a.m. :-
Interesting to note @Independent was only newspaper ‪#Blair‬ named in his 'feral beast' speech. No NI, Associated, GNM or MG title.  
@skymarkwhite, Twitter 9:38 a.m. :-
- The usual Tony Blair fan club waiting outside High Court ahead of former PM's evidence to ‪#leveson‬ from 10am
@BBCPeterHunt, Twitter 11:26 a.m. :-
Leveson : Blair. 1 man. 6 bodyguards -- 3 inside Court 73, 3 outside.
Protester manages to breach security and reach LJ Leveson's bench
Here's the background on Leveson protestor...presumably he's being held till police arrive at court.
Tony Blair's Testimony:

Guardian Politics Live Blog HERE
Guardian Leveson Inquiry Live Blog ( with Live feed ) HERE
Tony Blair arrives at the Leveson inquiry. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
@estheraddley: Blair has arrived in court. Blue suit, tan, big smile
@BBCPeterHunt : Leveson: Blair has 2 assistants and 3 bodyguards in court.
Tony Blair being sworn in..
Speaking about what is healthy relationship between politicians and press..
Blair ‪#leveson‬: what I found uncomfortable & unhealthy was when you were so acutely aware of media power interaction became crucial
Blair: inevitable is close interaction, uncomfortable and unhealthy is when you were so acutely aware of power exercised that you got into situation where it became essential and crucial to have that interaction

Mr Jay asking about Blair's decision to 'manage' the media
@nataliepeck: Blair: I decided as a political leader – and this was a strategic decision – that I was going to manage that and not confront it.
Guardian Live Blog:
Blair begins by explaining that the relationship between politicians and media executives is inevitably close and will "inevitably involve tension".
British journalism at its best is the best in the world, he says, adding that he will discuss the "unhealthy" aspects of the relationship between press and politicians.
"The power that is exercised by a certain part of the media … then creates a situation where that relationship is not merely sensible but essential," he says.
Blair: as a political leader I decided I would manage that relationship and not confront it
Blair: If you fail to manage major forces in the media, the consequences are harsh
Blair: I cannot believe we're the first and only gov't to put the best possible gloss on what we're doing
Blair: I don't actually think we created this phenomenon, I think we were trying to respond to it 

Blair: I do not think that the way this particular part of the media behaves is a response to the way the government has behaved.
Blair ‪#leveson‬: was absolutely determined Lab shouldn't be subject to same onslaught as in 1992
Jay qts Blair w statement - paid inordinate attention in early New Labour years to courting, persuading media

Blair: My advice to any political leader today would be: you have to have a very solid media operation.
Blair ‪#leveson‬: people don't speak out about (media power) because in the main they're afraid too
Leveson: Blair on media "you certainly do fear the power"

Blair: Relationships move from sensible to being crucial in a way that’s probably not healthy with some powerful parts of media.  
Blair ‪#leveson‬: price you would pay for confronting media wd push out all the other things you cared about
Blair ‪#leveson‬: take on UK media & you're in a long protracted battle that would shove everything else to one side

Blair: I did a lot of unpopular things in government where I had to have a certain courage in standing up to people.
Blair: Line has become blurred between news and comment.
Blair: Most people would say the PCC hasn’t operated in a way that provides accountability.

@rosschawkins: Blair: could have talked about Mail / Sun in feral beast speech, just happened to target Independent . Post feral beast speech Mail characterised media as a sloppy Labrador bestowing affections on Blair
@nataliepeck: Blair: I actually made more statements than either of my two predecessors [on Jeremy Paxman claims he "didn't care" about gov]. ‪Blair: I think Ofcom is probably the right body to deal with media policy but don't envisage it replacing the PCC. Jay QC referring to Jun 2007 leader in Guardian: Blair is right to highlight some of the worst qualities of British journalism. Blair: This was a speech I made shortly before I left office, Can you imagine if I'd made this two years into being PM?

@IndexLeveson: Blair: absolutely no problem in press being partisan. That's been part of our journalism for years, perfectly acceptable. Blair: my distinction is between that and how you report story as a piece of journalism
@rosschawkins: Blair ‪#leveson‬: Eurosceptic papers perfectly entitled to have that view but shdn't make up nonsense about Europe & dish it up to readers.
Blair ‪#leveson‬: British EU rebate was a "hallowed thing"
Blair: News pieces should be accurate even if have chosen to do piece itself because it supports your point of view.
Blair: The Sun and the Mail are the two most powerful papers. Once they're against you, that's it.
Blair: Rupert Murdoch is not an identikit right wing person. I would never describe him as a tribal Tory.
Blair: I didn’t feel under pressure in relation to commercial interests from the Murdoch people or indeed anyone else.

#leveson‬ Blair: if you fall out with controlling element of Daily Mail you'll be subject to huge and sustained attack
Leveson: Blair on Mail -- they attacked me, my family, my children. They do it very well, very effectively.
Blair: It's not closeness that’s the problem, it’s the imbalance that comes into. Have to take 'big fight' with media into account.
Blair: It would be pretty bizarre if senior politicians didn’t have reasonably strong relationships with media people.

(ie he's not saying his fault for getting too close, problem is press criticising him being so powerful ‪#leveson‬ Blair)
(lots of Twitter talk about Blair hardly torn apart here, Jay was always going to do thinky bit, q is whether he does the tough stuff too)

Blair: Rebekah Brooks mattered obviously. Frankly towards end wasn't a great deal of support left (...) sure I was pretty close
Jay reveals there's a May 97-June 07 18 page schedule of Blair's media proprietor contacts
Blair says he was "pretty close" to supporter Rebekah Brooks but Murdoch was the "key decision maker, for sure".
Jay looking at schedule of meetings between Blair, Murdoch and Brooks (then Wade), from 15 Sep 1994 – 1 May 1997.

Blair says dealing with cross media ownership would have been distraction fo Labour coming into office 
(Lance Price allegation is Labour dropped cross media ownership plans post Hayman Island visit in 95

Blair: Perfectly possible [during dinner with Murdoch] I would have said 'that's not an issue we're going to be taking on'.
Blair: It was not ownership that was the issue. The issue is the culture and rules under which people play.
Tony Blair being questioned on a printout of his meetings with press
Leveson: Blair dinners with Paul Dacre of Mail didn't occur after 2001.
Leveson : Blair -- it became pretty pointless to have meetings with Mail group past a certain point.
Schedule of contacts shows 1997 meetings with Rothermere, Piers Morgan, Conrad Black, Murdoch, Stuart Higgins, Rusbridger + others.

Met rupert Jun 1 97 - had met rothermere + david english on may 7 97, piers on may 12, Conrad black may 15, stu higgins May 19.
Blair had three calls w Murdoch on 11. 13 19 mar 2003 - run up to Iraq war, no more than 45 mins in total.
Spoke to rog alton mar 8, conrad on mar 13, lunch w guardian on April 7
Blair on Murdoch papers in run up to Iraq war: "look they were supportive of it and that was that".
Blair diary of 04 and 05 shows more than half his meetings with editors and props were w NewsInt - big change from early phase.
By this later phase Blair had give up on Mail, wasn't much in touch w Express, was in touch w Gdn + Obs.

Guardian Live Blog:
Blair is asked about the runup to the Iraq war in 2003.
His three phone calls with Murdoch on 11, 13 and 19 March 2003 are listed. He has also listed phone calls and meetings with other newspaper editors and executives.
Blair says he initiated one of the phone calls to Murdoch and that they are no more than 45 minutes in total.
"I would have been wanting to explain what we are doing. I think I had similar calls with the Observer and the Telegraph," he says, adding: "I don't think there's anything particularly odd about that when you're facing such an issue."
He adds:
With him, probably, I would have been asking him what the situation was in the US and Australia, which were part of the coalition. But, no, I wouldn't have been asking him about press coverage. 
Jay now looking at contact during Iraq war run-up [including three calls with Murdoch].
Between 13 Jan - 3 Sep 2003 Blair had contact with Yelland, Brooks, Blank, Alton, Murdoch, Black, Desmond and others.

@rosschawkins: Blair; Rupert Murdoch political views come 1st, he doesn't just back the winner. Should have said equal first ..  
@nataliepeck: Blair: View Murdoch backs the winner is more complicated, there are very strong political views and those actually do come first. Blair: If you looked at main media blocks, of which the Murdoch press were the most powerful, factor you had to take into account. 
'I don't think it's unprincipled to win...'
@rosschawkins: Jay qts Mullin qting Blair "my absolute priority it to win, it's my role in life"; Blair happily accepts that
From Guardian Live Blog:
Here is a brief summary of Blair's evidence so far:
• Tony Blair said taking on the press as prime minister would have led to an "absolute major confrontation" lasting years.
• Blair attacked the Daily Mail for its "huge and sustained" criticism.
• He said there was "nothing odd" about three phone calls to Rupert Murdoch days before the Iraq war.
Blair: I saw an ability to go out there and persuade the Murdoch group as I did the others
Blair on Andrew Neil claims: Might have said to him, 'if Rupert Murodoch's going to wage war on us, going to stand up to them.
'Wasn't this simply a charm offensive?'
Jay once again quoting Paul Keating's strongly worded views that Murdoch is big and bad and his only language is strength
#leveson‬ suggests: Hayman Island was a charm offensive

Leveson seems stunned as Blair candidly admits 1995 Hayman Island trip was "very deliberate and very strategic" bid to win over Murdoch

@nataliepeck: Blair: Was I aware he had certain interests + the media had a very strong interest in us not legislating on the media? Absolutely. ‪Blair: Part of this for me with the Murdoch media group was me using them as a conduit to that vote. Blair confirms Campbell claim that PM was "angered" 1997 meeting with Murdoch mattered. Blair: I felt that it really did matter, it mattered because the consequences of not getting it right were so severe.

@IndexLeveson: Blair: minimum objective was to stop them tearing us to pieces, maxiumum objective was to elicit their support
Blair ‪#leveson‬: in article for Sun stressed bit of Europe policy that wd appeal, but didn't change policy
Blair ‪#leveson‬: got to know Brooks better after I left office

Blair: I did not change our positions on core policy issues at all. Managing media was a major part of what you had to do.
Blair: I would describe my relationship with Murdoch as a working relationship until after I left office.
Blair: I would never have become a godfather to one of his children on the basis of my relationship in office.
Blair: Rebekah Brooks was important because she was editor of the Sun and I would be interacting reasonably often with them.
Blair: I did never and would never have asked Brooks, or indeed anybody else, to conduct attacks on individuals.
Blair: Most cabinet ministers will take the call of an editor of a major newspaper. I'd be surprised if they didn't. 
Blair: It definitely wouldn’t be the case that I was so busy dealing with the media I couldn’t focus on the issues of the day.  
TB discussing 24-hour media and the difficulties of managing it and having people like Mandelson to be a part of this.
Blair: You begin at your least capable and most popular, and you end at your least popular and most capable. 
Blair arguing that media mgmt was an inevitable part of his job. Of course . Key point though was he had no interest in institutional reform
Blair: The interaction between social and conventional media means building wave of opinion can wash a government away in days.
Leveson: Blair on Brooks -- she was supportive of Brown taking over.

Blair: Major question for leaders - how to have right interaction with media in a world light years away from what grew up with. ‪
Jay: Did you develop friendship with Brooks? Blair: Yes, probably closer once I left office
Blair confirms he sent Brooks supportive msg after her resignation, said he was sorry for what had happened to her
(Blair has volunteered thoughts on lots of imp bits of evidence - ie media ownership - so when Jay gets there feels like repetition)
Blair doesn't remember when pre 97 media ownership policy changed - Lance Price said it was after Hayman Island trip
Blair on Sarah's Law: Trouble with any of these campaigns is that if you're not careful, way conducted ends up getting out of hand.
Blair confirms he spoke to Brooks after resignation "Somebody who doesn't believe in fairweather friends and said I was sorry".
Blair says pretty sure Murdoch would back Labour by March 1997, Campbell spoke to Phil Hall. Would have been surprised if didn't. 

Andrew Sparrow's summary of Blair's evidence so far at ‪#leveson
Proceedings are interrupted by a male protester.
Consternation in court after removal of protester.
Intrusion at ‪#leveson‬, someone calling Blair "war criminal", ‪#leveson‬ promises investigation
Blair said protester's claim he had taken £6m from JP Morgan was untrue
(For those who missed it the protester got in behind ‪#leveson‬ himself; little wonder judge looked furious)
Back to the questioning, Jay asks if he had to 'tack too close to the wind', in relation to Murdoch.
Blair: I think trade unions are a very important part of democratic society but thought should be subject to legal framework.

Blair says he would have spoken to Prodi for any other media firm with big UK interests, not just Murdoch
Blair re Prodi intervention: "All I was doing was finding out whether a foreign owner (for Mediaset) wd be welcome or not welcome"

Blair: NI [and rest of press] wanted no suggestion that you would move outside the bounds of the PCC and self-regulation.
Blair: My view if you were to deal with regulation, you had to deal with it head on as it were, not through the Human Rights Act.
Blair: My recollection of this was that PCC itself was really the lobbying organisation on this one. ‪#Leveson‬: How do you feel about that?
Blair: They felt they were defending their own position as custodians of press standards.
Blair: Big debate going on (2002) about PCC and regulation. People around me had very strong views but didn't change position.  
Blair: There was never going to be a moment when this was not going to have to squeeze out the rest of the government agenda.
Blair: However powerful I seemed, this was going to flip like that the moment you put such an issue centre stage.
Blair: In some ways PM the worst person to initiate it because they say 'you're parti pris, you want to put us in straightjacket'.  

@rosschawkins: Blair confirms he asked Murdoch straight out whether he'd back them at meeting in 2000, was told Murdoch wd
@natalipeck: Blair: The strongest lobbying I remember getting from a media organisation during my time was from the BBC over the licence fee.
From Guardian Live Blog:
Blair denies ever assuring any media group that his government would not change policy without seeking their permission.
1.00pm: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:
12.58pm: Price described Murdoch as the 24th member of the Cabinet.
Blair says that European policy was the major debating point between him and Murdoch, but "I believed in what I was doing, I didn't need him or anyone else to tell me what to do".
A third of all objections from the Cabinet Office over Price's diaries related to references to Murdoch, Jay says.
12.58pm: Blair is asked about Lance Price, the former Labour and No 10 press officer. Price has written extensively about implied deals between Murdoch and politicians.
"I don't know a policy that we changed as a result of Rupert Murdoch," says Blair.
Here is a lunchtime summary of Blair's evidence so far:
• Tony Blair denied any deal with Rupert Murdoch during his 10 years as prime minister.
• Taking on the press would have led to an "absolute major confrontation" lasting years, Blair said.
• An anti-war protester breached court security to accuse Blair of war crimes.
• There was "nothing odd" about three phone calls to Rupert Murdoch days before Iraq war, Blair told the inquiry.
• Blair admitted sending a message of support to Rebekah Brooks after she resigned as News International boss at the height of the phone-hacking scandal in July 2011.
• Blair said his 1995 trip to a News Corp conference in Australia was a "very deliberate and strategic" bid to win over Murdoch.
Lunch break.

#Leveson‬ says he takes the intruder incident extremely seriously and effort has been put into ensuring witness can give evidence safely.
#Leveson‬ apologises again to Blair and says an investigation is being undertaken.
Jay asks about "war on Murdoch" Brown claim. Blair says has no evidence of it or any deals being done between NI and Cons Party.
Blair: I know of absolutely nothing to support that. All I can say is Murdoch never made such an approach to me.  

Blair asked if he feels Sun overstepped mark on personal attacks on Gordon Brown. Says he does, thinks it was "out of order"
Blair says he thinks he did discuss the Brown letter story (Sun) and personal attacks on the PM by paper with Brooks.
Blair: Ugly aspect of politics is people don't feel can disagree. Because you disagree on policy doesn't make anyone bad person.  
Blair: The way a lot of debate is conducted is highly personalised, very aggressive and you have to impugn someone's motive.  
Blair: You have to try and shut out this noise that’s going on the whole time around you, which is pretty ugly a lot of the time.  
Blair: one of the ugliest aspects of modern politics is that people don't seem to feel they can have a disagreement with others
Blair asked about Tom Watson's evidence. I don't recall being in receipt of emails from Brooks of that nature.
Blair ‪#leveson‬: @tom_watson resigned moments before I was about to issue a letter of dismissal

Response to Tony Blair's Comments at Leveson - Tom Watson MP 
Blair: Watson is entitled to his point of view but you can't remain in the government if you call for PM resignation.
Blair: Absolutely no truth in claims Murdoch contacted me over phone hacking claims in 2009, asking Watson to back off.  
Blair: Press attacks - especially from Mail titles - on my wife and on my children were just unnecessary and wrong.

Mail titles received "30 letters before action or legal actions started" over Cherie coverage from mid 06 to Nov 11.
Pretty clear that Blair hates the Mail, and his evidence is focused on taming the title.
But he enjoyed a good relationship with the Murdochs + and is relaxed about media ownership
Blair: when a section of media goes after that person they will go after you. Full on, full frontal, day in day out
Blair says this is wrong. That's not journalism, that's an abuse of power, he says
Blair says he doesn't believe any of his "protection people" have leaked any stories on him.
Blair: Very hard to argue when you read lobby notes, that you have a situation where the media are cowed and bullied.
Blair: I couldn't abide briefing against others, if I thought anyone was doing it I'd be down on them like a ton of bricks.
Blair: Completely untrue we were briefing against Mo Mowlam. A lot of claims are second hand knowledge.
Blair: Always felt press pushback against us was because for first time the Labour Party ran a really effective media operation.
Blair: I never authorised or asked anyone to brief against others, I hate that type of stuff, it's the lowest form of politics.
Blair: In my interactions with No 10 spokesmen were aware that if you start doing all that stuff all it does is blow back on you. 

@ rosschawkins:
Blair ‪#leveson‬: wd be astonished if Andrew Marr felt he had been bullied or initmidated
Blair: to outside world when you're PM, you seem all-powerful. Seemed we were carrying everything, won 2 landslides
Blair adds: part of media felt we were too powerful and had to be curbed.
Blair on dark arts: All I know is that all that stuff blows back on you. What goes around comes around

@nataliepeck: Blair: The environment in which we work, both [media and politicians] is far more raw, brutal and crude in terms of interaction.
Jay asks fusion of comment + news [touched on earlier]. Blair says distinction not being made in certain media section.
Blair says papers in US have individual voices but not as aggressive as papers in UK
Blair describing the US newspaper market, he says there are grades of titles (in terms of reliability). 
Blair: It's not merely the blurring of news and comment. You then get this very violent and aggressive genre of attack.
Blair: British journalism at best is best in world. If take this on they would find competed on better terms with social media.
Blair's points on future regulation: Practices that are abusive, improper + illegal and advancing political views in news section.

Blair says it is essential that press regulator should be independent of government and media
Blair: because it's the press you have to take immense care with the rules.
Blair: Rules have to be drawn up carefully. Despite what I would like, press should be allowed to be partisan.
Blair: Rules should be enforced as much through a change in culture as specific attempts to regulate.
Jay has finished his questions for Tony Blair, but ‪#Leveson‬ wants to explore the future of regulation.
#Leveson‬: Future body must work for people who can't afford legal action, has to be speedy and it has to be effective.
#Leveson‬ talking about a privacy arm/ombudsman, and how decisions on articles could be considered in court.
Blair: There is a chance to get this in a better place with this. Part of this is to do with the way the world has changed.

#Leveson‬: The response to the inquiry has been illuminative. Some have been very defensive, others realised things need to change.

Blair: now is a sensible moment to say how do we protect democratic freedoms but make sure they're working in mature enough system 
Blair: Hope change will improve nature of political debate. Maybe can resolve a situation people in my position have worried about.

Tony Blair's testimony is complete.