Blair details 'unhealthy' nature of relationship between UK politics and media

Blair details 'unhealthy' nature of relationship between UK politics and media

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair today told an inquiry into press ethics that he found it difficult to be "objective" about the issue of media relations.

Mr Blair outlined his thoughts as he began giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in London.

He had made a written witness statement to the inquiry and was questioned by a barrister.

Mr Blair said in his statement: "I find this issue extraordinarily difficult to be objective about."

Mr Blair said it was "unhealthy" that certain parts of the media used newspapers as "instruments of political power".

He said: "I'm just being open about that and open about the fact that, frankly, I decided as a political leader that I was going to manage that and not confront it."

In his statement to the inquiry he said: "Politicians will often interact with them closely. Disentangling what is inevitable from what is wrong is a profound challenge."

He went on: "My argument would be that the unhealthy nature of this relationship is not the product of an individual but of a culture.

"It is the draining of the poison of that culture that is the real challenge, a challenge deepened by the arrival of the social media and one not at all confined to the UK."

"I cannot believe we were the first and only Government which has wanted to put the best possible gloss on what you were doing," Mr Blair, Prime Minister between 1997 and 2007, told inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson.

"That is a completely different thing from saying you should go out and say things that are untrue or bully and harass journalists. I read a lot of things we are supposed to have done and I dispute them."

Mr Blair, Labour leader between 1994 and 2007, said the 1992 general election, which Labour lost, was "etched" on his memory.

He said he was "absolutely determined" Labour would not be subjected to the same "media onslaught" when he was leader.

Despite having once compared the media with a feral beast, Mr Blair stressed that British journalism at its best "is as good as it is in the world".

But he criticised the genre of journalism "where because this line between news and comment gets blurred, it stopped being journalism, it's an instrument of political power and propaganda."

He also argued there was little recourse for anyone who had a complaint about the press other than libel.

"There's not really a place you can go to complain and get redress and most people would say the PCC (Press Complaints Commission) isn't operated in a way that provides that accountability," he said.

"The thought is we need a process of accountability that's continuing and which influences the culture in which you behave."

Mr Blair said the "pace" of news coverage had increased since he took office in 1997.

And he added: "My advice to any political leader would be, 'you have got to have a very, very solid media operation'."

He said governments could fall out with newspapers and there were situations where "relationships moved from being sensible to being crucial".

But Mr Blair said he had decided that media relations was "not an issue I was going to take on".

He listed other issues at the top of his agenda - including health, crime and education - and said taking on the media issue would have "pushed out" issues he cared more about.

Mr Blair said The Sun and The Daily Mail are the most powerful newspapers.

He added: "The Sun particularly because it is prepared to shift, it makes it all the more important."

He added: "Once they are against you that's it. It's full frontal, day in, day out, basically a lifetime commitment."

Mr Blair said the lines between news and comment had become too blurred.

He said the problem he faced as a political leader was the press became partisan in its news coverage telling the inquiry "it becomes all the more important to try to prevent yourself becoming an object of attack".

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