Wednesday, July 27, 2011

#TonyMirandaBlair courting #Murdoch TRANSCIPT

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: One of the factors credited with helping Tony Blair become British Prime Minister back in 1997 was that he managed to get the Murdoch press onside.

In the wake of the UK phone hacking scandal, with serious questions being asked about the relationship between politicians and the media, is Tony Blair comfortable with the way he courted the press while he was in office?

Mr Blair's currently in Australia on a speaking tour and I spoke to him in Melbourne earlier today.

Tony Blair, welcome to the program.


LEIGH SALES: If we could start with the phone hacking scandal in the UK: does the scale of what's gone on surprise you?

TONY BLAIR: It's a little difficult to answer that, 'cause at one level, no, frankly, 'cause I think a lot of us have known there's something pretty badly wrong with some of the practices over a long period of time. But on the other hand, I think the individual circumstances have been shocking. And it's quite rightly and naturally caused not just a big storm, but a desire to make sure that there are some rules are put in place, some standards put in place so that whether it's hacking or it's impersonation or breaches of the Data Protection Act, these things stop.

LEIGH SALES: You didn't have a mobile phone when you were Prime Minister. Was that a deliberate decision in terms of the security of your communications?

TONY BLAIR: Um, in part it was. Although nothing to do with sort of phone hacking. But, in part, frankly, for leaders if you - if people start getting hold of your mobile phone number, your line tends to get a bit busy. So actually I only got a mobile phone the day after I left being Prime Minister.

LEIGH SALES: What about - are you worried about your family members having been hacked, obviously senior advisors? It's very hard to imagine that people like that wouldn't have been targets.

TONY BLAIR: Yes, I think it's perfectly possible. But the police are gonna go into all of this and look at it now and I think it'll sort itself out, I hope.

LEIGH SALES: You said that - I forget your exact words, sorry, but that you were sort uncomfortable with some of the practices that had gone on. What were some of the things when you were Prime Minister in terms of the practices that made you uncomfortable?

TONY BLAIR: I think what I was really referring to it is that I think it is uncomfortable if you're a political leader and have to have this very close relationship with media people. You know, the media and politicians are always gonna be in a bit of tension with one another and probably most of the time that's healthy and indeed even creative. But it's where - it's really when news organisations are used as kind of instruments of politics that it gets tricky. And then, you know, frankly, you're a politician, you've gotta communicate, the only way you communicate is through the media. So you can't expect us not to have relationships with people who are powerful carriers of message. But I think what would make it a lot more healthy is if we go back to the basic principle which is the distinction between news and comment.

LEIGH SALES: Rupert Murdoch gave the impression before that hearing last week that he was a bit one step removed from the day-to-day running of his newspapers, if you like. Was that your experience when you were Prime Minister?

TONY BLAIR: Yeah. I mean, I think when you're the owner of a major organisation like that, you're not gonna be on top of everything that's happening there. And ...

LEIGH SALES: But did you believe Rupert Murdoch, though, was personally directing coverage of you and of your government?

TONY BLAIR: Well, all of the media - you see, one of the things that I think's really important, because News International have been singled out in this. I mean, I've dealt with the British media for a long period of time, so the notion that you got this Murdoch empire here and these lovely, cuddly other sweet people there - not quite.

LEIGH SALES: The current British Labour leader Ed Miliband believes that his predecessors in the role, you and Gordon Brown, grew too close to News International executives and other media proprietors. Do you accept that criticism?

TONY BLAIR: Um, look, you know, I described the level of comfort I had sometimes with the relationship with all of these media guys. You know, once this thing happens and it blows into this huge scandal, then of course everyone says, "Oh, my goodness, it's terrible." But I think, realistically, look, when I became leader of the Labour Party, we'd lost four elections in a row. You know, getting - it wasn't just we'd fallen out with the Murdoch media; we'd fallen out with virtually all of it that wasn't absolutely clearly on the left. So, I set about ...

LEIGH SALES: So you had to court them?

TONY BLAIR: Well I set about changing that, because otherwise you can't get your message more