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The cozy relationship between press and power

May 15th, 2012
08:58 PM ET

By Lucky Gold, CNN

Frankly putrid

That’s how Alastair Campbell, Director of Communications for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, described certain elements of the British press when he testified on Monday before the Leveson Inquiry in London, looking into the hacking scandal.

Campbell didn’t back away from those words today, as he appeared on Amanpour, shortly after Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the now defunct Rupert Murdoch tabloid, The News of the World, was charged with perverting the course of justice.

He was asked about the cozy relationship between Britain’s powerful and the press, as revealed by the Inquiry.

“It’s not just about Rupert Murdoch,” said Campbell.  “Britain, as you know from having lived here, has got a very diverse and aggressive media….We have a lot of newspapers in a geographically fairly small country…And I think any political leader has to take account of the role they play in the political debate.”

Campbell didn’t minimize the potential for conflict of interest: “Now what I hope will come out of this inquiry is a changing of that relationship…I’ve been arguing for some years is that it’s got itself into a very, very bad place and I hope it can lead to change.”

That need for change was highlighted by Rebekah Brooks’ testimony before the Inquiry, in which her many messages and meetings, even her yachting, with current Prime Minister David Cameron were detailed.

Said Campbell, “I think David Cameron is on the record as saying that he got too close and he says that all politicians at times got too close.”

We didn’t win because they backed us

Campbell didn’t give his own party a pass:  “The truth is, when we were in opposition, we’d been out of power for a long time, the Labor Party that I worked for had really bad relations with the Murdoch press… And when Tony took over, we did decide we were going to try a different approach … We actually managed to persuade them to endorse us for the election and they did that for the three elections Tony fought and won.”

He was asked if Murdoch’s backing helped them win.

“I think they backed us because they knew we were going to win,” said Campbell.  “We didn’t win because they backed us.  But it doesn’t harm you.”

What the hell is going on

“We’ve got to be realistic about this,” he said.  “I don’t like our media very much but we all believe in a free media.  And if it’s there and in the twenty four (hour) media age, with twenty four news, which you know about more than anybody, the internet and so forth, then the idea that a political party or a political leader doesn’t have to take some consideration of how he or she is coming over in the media is absurd.”

Even so, he was asked if there could be too much closeness between politicians and the press – as when Tony Blair became godfather to Rupert Murdoch’s daughter.

“That happened after Tony Blair ceased being Prime Minister,” said Campbell.  However, he added, “I accept that it shows a closeness.”

Finally, he was asked what he hopes will come out of the scandal.

“The definition of a journalist is changing,” said Campbell.  “We’re in a different media age.  But I think we’ve reached this situation because of scandal and if there isn’t some form of proper regulation, I think the British public will say what the hell is going on."

CNN’s Claire Calzonetti produced this piece for television.

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  2. hdq

    A government official influenced by the press (or anybody else) to commit acts which are contrary to the duties of his office is either incompetent or dishonest, and should be removed from his office and punished for such acts. At present there no adequate ways of dealing with incompetence and dishonesty among government officials. This is why government officials abuse their powers with impunity.
    The press misleads the public, because the public is gullible. If people learn to question what they are told by the media, rather than accepting any nonsense, then the media will stop misleading the public.

    May 19, 2012 at 8:58 am | Reply
  3. aurelius

    The greatest case of abuse, conspiracy would be a more appropriate term, can be found right here in the US. It not only involves FOX and the GOP and evangelical, but the press and politicians in general although the FOX example is most flagrant. It concerns American foreign policy in the Middle East. Many of us are well aware that the Jewish lobby and their allies among the far right and evangelical movements, have been in total control of our policy in the Middle East, and yet not one single media has yet dared bring it out in the open. Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our economic downfall, our diminishing influence in the world to name only a few items are all tied to what we have done on behalf of Israel,. And no president of the United States, no matter how much they may dislike Israel and its policies, will ever dare change the course of our policy in that part of the world. President Obama has tried and quickly backed off. In a few months, if Romney is elected, we'll be involved in yet another war in Iran, thanks to those lobbies, FOX and the John Boltons of this world.

    May 20, 2012 at 11:34 am | Reply
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