While Rupert Murdoch was telling the Leveson Inquiry into Press standards that he wished he had closed – in his capacity as chair of its owners – the News of the World newspaper years before he actually did last year, First Minister, Alex Salmond, and Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, were clashing at First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament over relations with the media mogul.
The Leveson Inquiry was set up following the closure, in July, of the News of the World, amid allegations of phone-hacking, including into the voice messages of the murdered teenager, Milly Dowler.
Said Lamont: “The revelation that Rupert Murdoch's newspaper hacked Milly Dowler's phone was the moment that any doubt about Rupert Murdoch was removed. It was the moment his empire started to fall. After that devastating revelation, the First Minister became the only senior politician in this country, perhaps the only one in the world, to invite [Murdoch] around for tea. [Murdoch's] newspaper might be being investigated for bribery, perverting the course of justice, destroying evidence and perjury, but Rupert is still welcomed in 'Wee Eck's' house. And he writes an article in the launch [edition of The Scottish Sun on Sunday] saying it wasn't just News International, but all of the newspaper industry.
“There may be three police investigations going on and a judicial inquiry and nearly 50 arrests, but 'Eck' still puts the kettle on for Rupert.”
Salmond's response was to accuse Labour of “humbug and hypocrisy”, as he cited Labour's shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, writing for The Sun on Sunday, a week after his article appeared, plus Labour leader, Ed Milliband, allegedly “beaming” when he met with Rupert Murdoch. He even brandished a publicity photograph of Milliband reading the paper.
He said: “After this 15 years of worshipping at the feet of Rupert Murdoch from the Labour Party… what the people in Scotland will see when they see Johann Lamont, the Labour Party's words, and think of, they'll think of humbug and hypocrisy.”
The clash was preceded by Salmond stating (including on last night's Scotland Tonight programme on STV) that his motives around any support for BSkyB – which last year was the subject, now dropped, of a bid for outright control by Murdoch's company – was motivated by trying to protect and create BSkyB jobs in Scotland; in other words, not in return for favourable editorial from The Scottish Sun, as some have accused him.
Said Murdoch at Leveson: “When the Milly Dowler [story] was first given huge publicity, I think newspapers took the chance to make this a huge national scandal. It made people all over the country aware of this, you could feel the blast coming in the window.
“I'll say it succinctly: I panicked, but I'm glad I did. And I'm sorry I didn't close it years before and put a Sun on Sunday in. I tell you what held us back: News of the World readers. Only half of them read The Sun. Only a quarter, regular.”