Britain's former Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, has denied allegations that his relationship with Rupert Murdoch influenced national policy making. A protester called the former PM a "war criminal."
During testimony before a national inquiry on media ethics on Monday, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair denied having cut any backroom deals with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, while acknowledging that the press and politicians had become too cozy.
Blair led Britain's center-left Labour government from 1997-2007 and is the highest ranking official to have testified before the Leveson inquiry thus far. Current British Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry in the aftermath of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
Blair described how he flew to Australia in the mid-1990s meet with Rupert Murdoch in a bid to win the Newscorp. owner's political backing.
"The minimum objective was to stop them tearing us to pieces and the maximum objective to open the way to support," the former prime minister told Lord Justice Brian Leveson.
Ultimately, Blair managed to convince Murdoch to drop his traditional support for the Conservatives and back the Labour Party, a coup that is credited with helping him win the 1997 elections in a landslide victory.
Blair is the godfather of Murdoch's daughter and was friends with Brooks
"I took a strategic decision to manage these people, not confront them," Blair said during his testimony. "I didn't say that I feared them… had you decided to confront them, everything would have been pushed to the side. It would have been a huge battle with no guarantee of winning."
'Instrument of political power'
While Blair admitted that his relationship with Murdoch became too close, he denied having cut any deals with or made concessions to the media mogul.
"I don't know a policy that we changed as a result of Rupert Murdoch," Blair said. "Part of my job was to manage this situation so that we didn't get into a position where we were changing policy."
The former prime minister identified the Daily Mail and the Murdoch-owned daily tabloid The Sun as the two most powerful papers in the UK.
"Once they are against you, that's it. It's full frontal, day in, day out; basically a lifetime commitment," he said. "There is a substantial power there. In my view not simply in the Murdoch media."
Blair claimed that the British press blurred the lines too much between commentary and news coverage, using reporting as an "instrument of political power."
The former prime minister became the godfather to Murdoch's 10-year-old daughter Grace after leaving office. He also admitted to having been friends with Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Murdoch's British newspaper branch News International. Brooks has been charged along with five others in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.
Blair's testimony to the inquiry was shortly interrupted when a lone protester stormed into the room and called him a "war criminal," referring to the former prime minister's controversial decision to join the George W. Bush administration in invading Iraq. Blair is currently a Middle East peace envoy.
slk/pfd (AP, AFP)