17 Jul 2011

Questions about closeness of UK govt to Murdoch

12:15 pm on 17 July 2011

The British government is facing questions about the closeness of its relationship with media magnate Rupert Murdoch.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has defended Prime Minister David Cameron over the extent of his dealings with News International.

The BBC reports Mr Cameron has met its top executives 26 times in the 15 months since he became prime minister.

Mr Hague defended the PM's decision to entertain Andy Coulson after the latter quit as an aide over the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

Mr Coulson was arrested last week as part of the police inquiry into phone hacking.

In press ads on Saturday, News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch apologised for ''serious wrongdoing'' by the paper.

A list of engagements issued by Downing Street shows that Rebekah Brooks, who quit as News International chief executive on Friday, was entertained at the prime minister's official residence Chequers in June and August last year.

News International chairman James Murdoch also attended Chequers in November.

There were further social meetings between Mr Cameron, and James Murdoch and Mrs Brooks, last December.

Regarding Mr Cameron's meetings with various News International executives, Mr Hague said: ''I don't think that would be very different from previous prime ministers.

''Personally I'm not embarrassed by it in any way - but there is something wrong here in this country and it must be put right. It's been acknowledged by the prime minister and I think that's the right attitude to take.''

26 meetings

The BBC reports the 26 meetings or events involving News International figures compares with: nine involving Telegraph Media Group figures; four meetings involving Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday; four meetings involving the Evening Standard.

Rupert and James Murdoch and Mrs Brooks are due to appear in front of the Commons select committee on Tuesday to answer questions from MPs.

Mrs Brooks was editor of News of the World between 2000 - 2003, during which time the phone belonging to murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler was tampered with.

As well as her resignation, senior News Corporation executive Les Hinton quit on Friday in New York.

Mrs Brooks has been replaced by Tom Mockridge, who was in charge of News Corporation's Italian broadcasting arm.