Blair 'said no deal with Murdoch'
Tessa Jowell sought an assurance from Tony Blair he had made no deal with Rupert Murdoch on media regulation when she was appointed culture secretary, the Leveson Inquiry has been told.
Ms Jowell said the then prime minister promised her there was "no prior agreement" with the media baron on his government's reforms to cross-media ownership rules.
She told the inquiry that Mr Blair's instincts to deregulate were even stronger than hers, but insisted that that was not driven by "any particular media company".
Ms Jowell said she spoke to the prime minister within days of her appointment as culture secretary in June 2001.
"I asked him whether any deal had been done with Rupert Murdoch on the reform of cross media ownership," she said. "He gave me an absolute assurance, which I completely accepted, that there had been no prior agreement. So I had no constraint on the conclusion I might reach."
Ms Jowell said she had urged Mr Blair not to see the interested parties so that her decision-making would not be undermined by direct lobbying of Number 10.
"I wanted to make sure that the meetings I had, the proposals I developed, were not being undermined by representations being made directly to Number 10, and the Prime Minister understood the risks of that," she said.
She said that she "invited lobbying" on the reforms by a wide range of media companies and other interested parties, and said she had more than 150 meetings.
"I don't think there was more lobbying from News International than other media groups," she said. The inquiry heard that Ms Jowell had a number of meetings with News International chief Les Hinton over the following year, but insisted there was no "negotiation" with the company over possible media reforms.
"It wasn't a negotiation. They came to see me to tell me what their view was, as did scores of other media interests," she said.