Rupert Murdoch believed the power wielded by his newspapers benefited his wider commercial interests, former UK cabinet minister Jack Straw said today.
Mr Straw said the media mogul liked his publications to keep their options open on which party to support because it could “open more doors” when it came to issues such as regulation and licences.
The comments came as the former secretary of state for the justice, Home Office and Foreign Office departments gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.
He admitted that Tony Blair’s government had been too cosy with the press, blaming the fact that in opposition, links with journalists had become “very, very close, sometimes incestuous”.
Asked about Mr Murdoch’s impact on politicians, Mr Straw insisted he had “power”.
While stressing he had only had a “paragraph” of conversation with the owner of the Sun and the Times, and no direct information, he said: “He reckoned 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.
“I don’t mean a deal, because I have seen no evidence of a deal. But he thought there was something in it.”
He went on: “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.”
Pressed on what Mr Murdoch might have thought he would get from his influence over politicians, Mr Straw suggested he wanted to “consolidate his non-newspaper interests in this country”.
Mr Murdoch believed remaining available could “open more doors in government when it came to things like media regulation, licences, regulation of football and so on”.
The Labour MP rejected as “disingenuous” James Murdoch’s efforts to play down the importance of News International’s publications to the wider News Corporation empire. Although they only constituted 2% of the group’s financial interests, they were far more significant to the business in other ways, he said.
Asked whether Mr Murdoch wielded “power” or “influence”, Mr Straw replied: “Certainly, to those on the receiving end it felt like power.”