At inquiry, Rupert Murdoch defends 50-year record

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LONDON (AP) — News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch defended his globe-spanning, half-century-long media career Wednesday, telling an official inquiry into U.K. 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 humor, Mr. Murdoch parried one question after the other about the influence his dominant media operations had in lobbying lawmakers, setting the news agenda, favoring 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 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 behavior at the top-selling Sunday publication rocked Britain’s establishment with evidence of media misdeeds, police corruption and too cozy links between the press and politicians.

Mr. Murdoch issued a litany of denials at Wednesday’s session.

Asked whether he had set the political agenda for his U.K. editors, Mr. Murdoch denied it.

“I’ve never given instructions to the Times or the Sunday Times,” he said.

Asked whether he had 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.”

Buffeted by the phone-hacking scandal, Prime Minister David Cameron called for the public inquiry into media ethics. Mr. Murdoch’s testimony was among the most heavily anticipated — not least because of his close links to generations of British politicians, both from Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives and the opposition Labor Party.

Two hours into his testimony, Mr. Murdoch largely held his fire. Quizzed on the rumors that the 81-year-old media tycoon was seeking revenge on Mr. Cameron, Mr. Murdoch was coy.

“Did I say that? Is it in my witness statement?” he asked.

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