LONDON, May 22 (Reuters) - British lawmaker Tom Watson, an outspoken critic of Rupert Murdoch
who played a prominent role in exposing phone hacking at his British newspaper business, said on Tuesday politicians had been scared of being targeted by the media mogul's tabloids.
Watson, a member of the opposition Labour Party, said ministers and members of Parliament (MPs) had been unwilling to take on Murdoch's News International because of its 'mystique' and the threat of 'ridicule and humiliation'.
'I think they closed their minds to the potential for a major scandal at one of their key outlets for their message,' Watson told a public inquiry into media ethics headed by senior judge Brian Leveson.
'I think the personal relations between politicians and the people at the company were fibrous and close so they couldn't divorce their objective thinking. And I think they were frightened,' he added.
He said at least a dozen MPs had been fearful of having details about their personal lives or past political decisions printed in Murdoch's papers.
Watson, who has co-authored a book about Murdoch 'Dial M For Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain', has been called Murdoch's 'tormentor in chief' by the press.
During a parliamentary committee hearing, Watson characterized Murdoch's son James, the former executive chairman of News International, as 'a mafia boss', and Leveson said he was not 'dispassionate' about phone hacking.
After a private detective and the royal reporter at the now defunct News of the World tabloid were jailed in 2007, Watson became one of the most high-profile campaigners to call for further investigation into phone hacking.
He argued that the matter had not been treated seriously enough by police, nor by his parliamentary colleagues and most of the media, and that News International had covered up the issue.
It was only after police reopened their investigation in January last year and the revelations about hacking in July that the matter became a political storm.
The inquiry has already heard about the close relationship between former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and a succession of prime ministers, including Tony Blair and David Cameron.
'There was a sense there was a mystique about the News International stable, that they had unique access to Downing Street, for a minister that was important and the way you were portrayed in the News International papers was important,' Watson said.
He added he himself had been targeted by the News of the World and put under surveillance by its chief reporter, now at the Sunday Times, over mistaken claims he was having an affair.
He also told the inquiry that former premier Gordon Brown had called him to say Murdoch had told Blair to call him off the phone hacking inquiry. Murdoch and Blair deny the conversation while Brown says he cannot remember it.
(Reporting by Michael Holden) Keywords: BRITAIN HACKING/
COPYRIGHT Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012. All rights reserved. The copying, republication or redistribution of Reuters News Content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters.
Datafeed and UK data supplied by NETbuilder and Interactive Data.
While London South East do their best to maintain the high quality of the information displayed on this site,
we cannot be held responsible for any loss due to incorrect information found here. All information is provided free of charge, 'as-is', and you use it at your own risk!
The contents of all 'Chat' messages should not be construed as advice and represent the opinions of the authors, not those of London South East Limited, or its affiliates.
London South East does not authorise or approve this content, and reserves the right to remove items at its discretion.