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Murdoch to be quizzed on his UK political sway

world Updated: Apr 23, 2012 08:35 IST
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He was long considered one of the most important power brokers in British politics. Now, with his influence shriveled by Britain's phone hacking scandal, media mogul Rupert Murdoch is returning to the UK to face questions about his ties to the country's most senior politicians.

It could be an uncomfortable few days for Britain's ruling class.

Murdoch is "not somebody you'd like to get into a battle with," said Steven Fielding, the director of the Center for British Politics at the University of Nottingham. "I don't think he thinks that he has very much to lose."

Rupert Murdoch's appearance before Lord Justice Brian Leveson's inquiry this week is expected to focus on the network of personal and professional ties that have bound his newspaper and television operations to some of the most senior politicians in the United Kingdom.

Those ties have frequently come under criticism, with many observers saying British politicians were scared of crossing Murdoch because of his company's domination of the British media landscape.

Murdoch's papers account for a third of the national daily newspaper market and more than 40% of the national Sunday market. The top-selling The Sun tabloid is particularly influential and famously claimed credit for swinging the 1992 election in the Conservative Party's favor.

Murdoch's sway extends to TV, where his Sky News channel was key in prompting Britain's first-ever US-style prime ministerial debates.

The Australian's relationship with British leaders blossomed in the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher's government rubber-stamped Murdoch's bid for The Times of London following a secret meeting at the prime minister's country retreat.

It strengthened in the 1990s and 2000s, when Murdoch was assiduously courted by Prime Minister Tony Blair. Current Prime Minister David Cameron, meanwhile, drafted former Murdoch lieutenant Andy Coulson to be his chief media aide.

So frequently did Murdoch meet with British prime ministers that he joked last year, "I wish they would leave me alone."

Murdoch protege Rebekah Brooks has also spent time with Britain's most powerful people. By her own estimation, Brooks saw Tony Blair more than 60 times in the decade he spent in office and she was friendly enough with the wife of Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, to be invited to a slumber party at the prime minister's official residence in 2008.

The Murdoch empire's British connections had a strikingly personal tone. Blair became the godfather of Murdoch's second-youngest child. Cameron, whose Oxfordshire home is practically next door to Brooks and her husband Charlie, used to regularly ride the couple's horses.