Rupert Murdoch batted away accusations on Wednesday that he used his vast media empire to play puppet master to a succession of British leaders, electrifying a media inquiry that has shaken faith in Prime Minister David Cameron’s government.
The 81-year-old media mogul’s appearance is the high point in an inquiry which has laid bare collusion between ministers and News Corp, reawakening decades of concern over the cosy ties between big money, the media and power in the UK.
Murdoch was immediately asked about his relationship to politics and British “toffs”, a reference to his regular attacks on Britain’s gilded establishment, which the Australian-born mogul has lampooned as snobbish.
“I have never asked a prime minister for anything,” Murdoch said with steely calm when asked about his links to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, one of his favourite British leaders.
“It is only natural for politicians to reach out to editors and sometimes proprietors, if they are available, to explain what they are doing. But I was only one of several,” he said.
“He’s the master of the barbed quote, the one-liner,” said Neil Chenoweth, Australian investigative journalist who has written two books on Murdoch. “He just lets it drop, and his delivery makes it absolutely lethal.”
Murdoch said the influence that owners have over their newspapers is often overestimated. He even tried to play down his legendary reputation as the world’s most powerful and menacing media tycoon.
“Do I have an aura or a charisma? I don’t think so,” he said, though when asked about his influence at The Sun newspaper, one of his favourites, he admitted, “I’m a curious person. I'm not good at holding my tongue.”
Revelations last July about widespread illegal phone hacking at one of Murdoch’s British tabloids convulsed his media empire, exposed the ties between the upper echelons of UK’s establishment and provoked widespread public anger.