May 28 - Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair tells an inquiry that British leaders are forced to court powerful press barons such as Rupert Murdoch or risk savage media attacks. Matt Cowan reports.
A protestor shouting accusations against former British Prime Minister Tony Blair interrupted proceedings at a UK inquiry into press standards. The presiding judge, Lord Leveson moved to restore calm, offering an apology and promising an explanation. SOUNDBITE: Judge Lord Leveson saying (English) "I'll have an investigation undertaken about that immediately. I apologize." Blair had been called on to discuss his relationship with the media, in the wake of the phone hacking scandal in Britain, which has drawn attention to the close links between British politicians and the press. Blair said he chose not to challenge the status quo as a matter of political pragmatism. SOUNDBITE: Tony Blair, Former UK Prime Minister saying (English): "With any of these big media groups, you fall out with them and you watch out because it is literally relentless and unremitting once that happens and my view is, that is what creates this situation in which these media people get a power in the system that is unhealthy and which I felt, throughout my time, uncomfortable with. Now as I say, I took the decision - and this I am well aware could be subject to criticism -- I took the stra tegic decision to manage this not confront it but the power of it is indisputable." Blair is a divisive figure in the UK. He led the Labour Party to three consecutive general election victories, entering Downing Street to the tune of 'Things Can Only Get Better' in 1997 ... leaving 10 years later, likening the media to feral beasts. He conceded that he'd courted the favour of the Murdoch media empire, but said didn't change policies to appease News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch SOUNDBITE: Tony Blair, Former UK Prime Minister saying (English): "I would describe my relationship with him as a working relationship until after I left office. There's been stuff about me being godfather to one of his children. I would have never become godfather to his child on the basis of my relationship with him in office, but after I left I got to know him better and frankly the relationship can be a lot easier." As measured and considered as ever, Blair's testimony still represented an unprecedented insight into the inner workings of his government. Matt Cowan, Reuters