Newspapers used as ‘instruments of political power’
Rupert Murdoch and other British newspaper proprietors use their newspapers “as instruments of political power”, with the Sun and Daily Mail being the two most powerful, Tony Blair has told a continuing inquiry into media ethics.
In June 2007, Blair had branded the media as being like a “feral beast tearing people and reputations to bits” in a speech towards the end of his time as prime minister.
He said he now felt more comfortable talking about the sometimes unassailable power that newspapers hold without responsibility.
Blair said “certain newspapers are used by their owners or editors as instruments of political power … in which the boundary between news and comment is deliberately blurred”.
“The Sun and the Mail frankly are the two most powerful of the papers, and the Sun in particular because it is prepared to shift, it makes it all the more important.”
The Sun switched support from Labour to Conservative in the 1980s and claimed credit for Margaret Thatcher’s coming to power. It later abandoned the Conservatives to support Blair, then swung back to back to the Conservatives under current leader David Cameron.
Certain parts of the media were “not merely politically partisan in their comment or editorial line but in their news coverage”, he said.
“I say to you, emphatically, this is not confined to the Murdoch media … they’re not the only ones by any means at all,” he added. “I think you’d say the bulk of what we call the tabloid press basically writes in a way that if they’re against a particular policy, party or person, it’s a pretty all-out affair.”
Once a newspaper took against a particular politician or party, said Blair, “It’s a full-on, full-frontal day in, day out … basically a lifetime commitment”.
He added this gave the media a power which he believed was “unhealthy and which I have felt through my time uncomfortable with”.
Blair said the Daily Mail was a “subject on which I couldn’t claim to exercise much objectivity”.
“The fact is when you fall out with the controlling element of the Daily Mail that is when you are going to be subject to a huge and sustained attack,” he added. “The Daily Mail, for me, they’ve attacked me, my family, my children, those people associated with me, day in, day out. Not merely when I was in office but subsequent to it as well. That is, and they do it very well, very effectively. It’s very powerful.”
Blair said Leveson now had an opportunity to change the relationship between the media and politicians.
“It is the draining of the poison from the culture that is the real challenge, a challenge deepened by the arrival of social media and one not at all confined to the UK,” Blair said. “This is a debate that is now permissible, and you have the potential to get a solution so let’s hope we can get one.”
On fears over the implications of statutory regulation of the media, Blair said: “The notion that it’s impossible to find a space between no proper system of accountability and the press becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the government, that is an assertion that is frankly ludicrous.”