Rupert Murdoch has begun giving evidence to an inquiry into press ethics on his role within the media, and to confront charges that he used his clout to curry favour with a succession of British leaders.
"I've never asked a prime minister for anything," the News Corp. chairman said in a spirited performance at the judge-led inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London on Wednesday, adding that those who say the company exploited its ties to political figures were making "sinister inferences".
Murdoch's appearance at the Leveson Inquiry came as Adam Smith, a special adviser to Jeremy Hunt, the UK culture minister, resigned over his dealings with Murdoch's News Corp.
The resignation came a day after Murdoch's son, James, released emails to the inquiry which showed that Smith effectively supplied News Corp with information about the progress of its bid to take full control of BSkyB.
It was Hunt's job to assess whether the government should approve the BSkyB bid for complete control in the face of opposition from other media groups who feared it would give the Murdochs too much influence over the British media.
The bid was dropped in July 2011 amid a scandal over phone-hacking at Murdoch's Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, which led to the closure of the newspaper and the creation of the Leveson Inquiry.
In his resignation statement, Smith said: "I appreciate that my activities at times went too far."
'Put myths to bed'
Cameron appointed judge Brian Leveson to examine Britain's press standards after journalists at the News of the World admitted widespread hacking into phones to generate exclusives.
The media inquiry has become increasingly damaging for the British government and Prime Minister David Cameron, who is already seen to be too close to the Murdochs.
The 81-year-old Murdoch, watched by his son Lachlan and wife Wendi Deng, was immediately asked about his relationship to UK politics.
Murdoch told the inquiry: "I welcome the opportunity [to appear] because I wanted to put some myths to bed."
Asked whether he would ever have been "so undeft and cack-handed" as to ask a favour of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher directly, he said: "I hope not.... I didn't expect any help from [Thatcher] nor did I ask for any."
Nick Ferrari, a radio presenter who has worked for Murdoch's empire for years, said he was never instructed to "put something in or to take something out" during his working experience there.
Ferrari has said that Murdoch has a "healthy" interest in news and politics.
Papers released this year showed that he held a secret meeting with Thatcher in 1981 to help secure his acquisition of The Times newspaper.
The revelation that Smith appeared to have sought to help Murdoch in his business dealings go to the heart of the issue in Britain, that Murdoch wields too much influence and that this resulted in a company culture that rode roughshod over rules and regulations.
News Corp said it had been required by law to produce the email documents that revealed the contact with Hunt's office.
Hunt has now also come under pressure to resign. Speaking to reporters as he left his house early on Wednesday, Hunt said he had behaved "scrupulously fairly" over the deal and had asked for his own appearance at the inquiry to be brought forward so he could clear his name.
"I am going to be making a very, very determined effort to show that I behaved with total integrity," he said.
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|William T. Hathaway|