Politicians would make better decisions if they were not so influenced by the front pages, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten told the Leveson Inquiry today.
Patten said that politicians have allowed themselves to be “kidded” by editors and proprietors that newspapers have more power and sway with the public than they in fact do.
“The question is how seemly it is for politicians to behave in a certain way or appear to be manipulated by papers,” Patten said.
He accused major political parties and their leaders of having “demeaned themselves” by courting the press over the last 25 years, adding that he was not a fan of “grovelling” to the press.
He said he would need a “lot of persuading to organise sleepovers for newspaper proprietors”.
Taking a mischievous dig at Rupert Murdoch, Patten said: “I’d have expected to meet the prime minister and other party leaders more times if I was a News International executive.” He told the Inquiry he had seen culture secretary Jeremy Hunt two or three times, and met David Cameron once.
When asked about his relationship with the media mogul, Patten told the Inquiry he sued publisher HarperCollins after Murdoch — its owner — tried to block the publication of a book Patten had written that was critical of his dealings with the Chinese authorities. Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, said Murdoch had intervened to “curry favour with the Chinese leadership”, fearful that the book would “harm” his prospects in China.
But Patten went on to say he did not have a vendetta against the News International chief, adding that ” it is probably the case that certain papers exist in this country because of him.” He also described Sky News as a “terrific success”.
He also reiterated his view made last November at the Society of Editors that broadcasting regulation could not be applied to the press.
“It would be preferable not to have any statutory backup because we should be able to exercise self-discipline in our plural society,” he said, “which doesn’t involve politicians getting involved in determining matters of free speech.”
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