Rupert Murdoch 'enjoys political power game' - Straw

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Media captionJack Straw: "We weren't nattering the whole journey"

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch enjoys playing a "power game" with politicians, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says.

Speaking at the Leveson Inquiry, he said the News International boss appeared to wield more power than executives at other papers.

He also described relationships between politicians and journalists as "incestuous" in some cases.

He called for external regulation of the press.

The Labour MP - a former home secretary and foreign secretary - spoke of Mr Murdoch's influence and enjoyment of a "power game" with politicians.

"What I perceive of Mr Murdoch's approach, particularly with the Sun and the News of the World, was that he reckoned that his political influence would be greater, if as it were, his support was available in return for what he thought he could get out of it.

"And I don't mean some deal, because I've seen no evidence of a deal. But he thought there was something in it."

He added: "I think that the perception I have got is that Mr Murdoch is enjoying the fact that he has been willing to play with political leaders in the way that the senior executives of the other papers have not.

"He is very interested in power for its own sake, because you do not get to that position running a huge international media empire without being interested in power."

Referring to the start of the Iraq war in 2003, he said it would have been "disgusting" had the UK sent troops into combat only after considering if there was enough press support.

He denied Daily Mail claims that the UK would not have committed to war in 2003 without the backing of News International papers.

"I can't ever remember a conversation along the lines that we can or we will [commit troops] if the Murdoch papers were on side. It would have been disgusting were it true."

Asked generally about the relationships between press and politicians, Mr Straw used the word "incestuous" several times.

"Free press plays a critical role in our system of democracy. Every politician wants to have the best relationship with the press, but if you get too close your own position becomes compromised... and can undermine your integrity."

He said there were several areas where newspapers were lacking - mainly too little scrutiny of the press's role in reporting politics; a lack of understanding about the "responsibility of decision-making"; and reducing political reporting "to personality and to conflict".

Robert Jay QC raised the issue of Sarah's Law, a campaign backed by News of the World then-editor Rebekah Brooks which would allow access to names on the sex offenders register.

Mr Straw said lobbying from the paper was "fairly intense", but he disagreed with the campaign.

"I was pretty certain that this would lead to more trouble and more criminality than it would resolve."

He said he used to sit with Mrs Brooks when they commuted by train from Oxfordshire to London.

Mr Straw told the inquiry they would talk about current political issues and "gossip about personalities" but never sensitive topics.

Press leaks

Shortly after he became home secretary in 1997, Mr Straw ordered a public inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder.

The Home Office kept the finished report "under wraps" but the Sunday Telegraph reported on it before the official publication date.

"That leak came from No 10 and we knew who they were. I was very angry about it indeed. Furious," Mr Straw said.

On press regulation, he said: "You have to have some external regulation of the press. The press can't go on as they have been, claiming that every other institution needs external regulation," he said, such as the City and the legal profession.

"It would be good for the press as most journalists want much higher standards."

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