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Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair(L) looks on as a protester, top centre in white shirt, is restrained by officials after he burst in through a secure corridor. AP photo

Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair(L) looks on as a protester, top centre in white shirt, is restrained by officials after he burst in through a secure corridor. AP photo

Former British prime minister Tony Blair told a press ethics inquiry yesterday that he got too close to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, in evidence disrupted by a protester calling him a “war criminal”.

A middle-aged man burst into the courtroom where the Leveson Inquiry is held and shouted “this man should be arrested for war crimes” while Blair was speaking, before being hustled out. The reference was to Blair’s decision to take Britain to war in Iraq and Afghanistan during his time in office from 1997 until 2007. Judge Brian Leveson, who is heading the inquiry, apologized to Blair and immediately ordered an investigation into how the man had gained access to a “secure corridor” into the courtroom. In his evidence, Blair, who is godfather to one of Rupert Murdoch’s children, was asked about his close relationship with the media baron whose tabloid The Sun -- Britain’s top-selling newspaper -- gave Blair its backing.

Blair said he had made a strategic decision not to take on the power of the press during his time in office, despite calls for tougher media regulation following the death of Diana, princess of Wales in 1997. He said he had taken care to court the press because if media groups had turned against him, it would have been a “huge and sustained attack”. Asked whether he had got too close to Murdoch’s News International, he replied: “Yes.” But he added, “I don’t know a policy that we changed as a result of Rupert Murdoch. Part of my job was to manage this situation so that we didn’t get into a position where we were changing policy.”

Chats ahead of Iraqi invasion

In three phone calls with Murdoch in March 2003 ahead of the US-led invasion of Iraq, Blair said he would simply have been explaining his viewpoint. “I wouldn’t say there’s anything particularly unusual or odd about that when you’re facing such a huge issue,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been about the tone of the coverage.” The Leveson Inquiry was set up by current Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2011 as the phone-hacking scandal escalated. The inquiry is currently probing the links between politicians and the media.

May/29/2012

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