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Europe

Cameron defends record in phone-hacking scandal

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-07-26

British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed an emergency session of parliament Wednesday, promising a full inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal and defending his decision to hire a former News of the World editor as his communications chief.

Prime Minister David Cameron expressed "regret" on Wednesday at his decision to hire Andy Coulson, the former editor of the now defunct News of the World tabloid, in front of an extraordinary session of parliament.

But the Conservative leader refused to apologise over the phone-hacking scandal, and reminded lawmakers that Coulson had not yet been proven guilty of charges against him.

Coulson, who quit his position as Cameron’s communication chief last January, is suspected of having condoned telephone hacking during his previous job as editor of the News of the World. In 2007, Cameron insisted on hiring Coulson despite warnings the former editor had endorsed the illegal practice.

On Wednesday, Cameron said that Coulson had told him that he was unaware of hacking. “If it turns out I have been lied to, that would be a moment for a profound apology,” Cameron told members of parliament.

Britain’s premier, who is facing his toughest two weeks since he took office 15 months ago, expressed regret, but sought to justify his past actions.

“It was my decision. I take responsibility…of course I regret and I am extremely sorry about the furore it has caused,” Cameron said, adding “With 20:20 hindsight – and all that has followed – I would not have offered [Coulson] the job and I expect that he wouldn’t have taken it.”

Recent reports that the News of the World hacked into the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler and the relatives of dead British servicemen during Coulson’s watch have turned the controversy into a nationwide scandal.

Regaining control

Even though analysts doubt that the prime minister’s job is under any real threat, the escalating scandal has developed into a major setback for the ruling Conservatives. Cameron’s attempts to fend off criticism from opposition Labour MPs underscored the changing momentum in British politics.

An opinion poll this week showed Britons’ satisfaction with Cameron had fallen to its lowest level since he entered office in May last year. According to the Reuters/IPSOS Mory survey, only 38 percent were happy with the way he was doing his job.

“[Cameron] has been slow to react and has allowed things to spin out of control, letting the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, make the running,” said Dr Tim Bale, professor of politics at the University of Sussex and author of the book The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron.

“His party seems to be rallying round him now, which means he will suggest that the inquiry and the police investigation be allowed to take their course while the government gets on with tackling its main task – Britain’s serious economic problems,” Bale told FRANCE 24.

At Wednesday’s hearing Cameron tried to move the country past the hacking affair, which has sounded alarms about the cozy relationship between the government and the press.

“The public want us to work together to sort this problem out, because until we do so it will not be possible to get back to the issues they care about even more, getting our economy moving, creating jobs, helping with the cost of living, protecting them from terrorism, restoring fairness to our welfare and immigration systems,” Cameron said.

Phone-hacking probe expanded

The emergency parliamentary session, which disrupted Cameron’s tour of some of Africa’s most promising economies, came a day after News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch was grilled for two hours by a select parliamentary committee in London, in what he described as “the most humbling day” of his life.

Cameron came under pressure from Labour backbenchers to confirm whether he had discussed News Corp’s aborted bid for full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB with Murdoch or with other company executives. The prime minister denied having any “inappropriate” conversations on the subject.

In his statement to MPs, Cameron also announced that an inquiry into the phone-hacking affair would be expanded in its scope to cover other potential instances where police and the press might have engaged in inappropriate practices.

He also announced the composition of the investigating panel, which will include a civil rights activist and journalists.

"These people have been chosen not only for their expertise in the media, broadcasting, regulation and policing, but for their complete independence from the interested parties," Cameron said.

 

Date created : 2011-07-20

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