When Murdoch met Blair - information released
Date: 18 July 2007
The Cabinet Office has unexpectedly agreed to release information about meetings and calls between Rupert Murdoch, Richard Desmond and Tony Blair while Prime Minister.
In 2004, the Liberal Peer Lord Avebury requested information about the dates of contacts between Tony Blair and media moguls. The majority of this information was not released, even when the request was repeated under the Government’s own Freedom of Information legislation, the Cabinet Office claiming that the meetings were private or that the information was exempt as its release would “prejudice effective conduct” of public affairs. The Information Commissioner’s office accepted this argument, leading to an appeal to the Information Tribunal in order to test the Government’s argument.
With this appeal pending, the day before evidence was due to be served on the parties in the Information Tribunal case and the day after Gordon Brown took office, Cabinet Office made the surprise announcement that the information requested was to be released. The information shows regular contacts between the then Prime Minister and media moguls.
Tamsin Allen of Bindman & Partners, Lord Avebury’s solicitors, said:
“The Cabinet Office argued that meetings between Murdoch and Blair were not ‘official’ meetings because they were not minuted and the information was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. That argument was always tenuous and it was therefore not unexpected that this information would eventually reach the public domain. What is surprising is the timing of the announcement (the day after Tony Blair’s resignation) and the fact that the Government sought to suppress the information for so long. ”
Lord Avebury said:
“This is a welcome blow for the cause of freedom of information, but it shouldn’t have taken so much time and effort to extract information that was so clearly of great public interest. Rupert Murdoch has exerted his influence behind the scenes on a range of policies on which he is known to have strong views including the regulation of broadcasting and the Iraq war. The public can now scrutinize the timing of his contacts with the former Prime Minister, to see whether they can be linked to events in the outside world. One hopes that the timing of the Government’s decision to capitulate indicates that under Gordon Brown’s leadership, freedom of information will be made a reality.”