As ex-aide arrested, pressured Cameron vows media reform

Fri Jul 8, 2011 6:58pm EDT
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By Jodie Ginsberg and Georgina Prodhan

LONDON (Reuters) - Police arrested David Cameron's former spokesman on Friday over the scandal that has shut down Rupert Murdoch's News of the World, forcing the prime minister to defend his judgment while promising new controls on the British press.

As Cameron fielded hostile questions over why he had hired the paper's former editor Andy Coulson in 2007, despite knowing that one of his journalists had been jailed for hacking into voicemails in search of scoops, Coulson was being arrested by police on suspicion of conspiring in the illegal practice.

Cameron said he took "full responsibility" for his decision to appoint Coulson, who quit Downing Street in January when police relaunched inquiries. But the premier rebuffed criticism and strove to spread the blame for an affair that has generated public outrage against the press, politicians and police.

"Murder victims, terrorist victims, families who have lost loved ones in war..." he said: "That these people could have had their phones hacked into in order to generate stories for a newspaper is simply disgusting."

So widespread was the rot, Cameron told an emergency news conference after Murdoch dramatically shut down his best-selling Sunday paper, that only a completely new system of media regulation and a full public inquiry into what went wrong over a decade at News of the World and beyond would meet public demand.

"This scandal is not just about some journalists on one newspaper," Cameron said. "It's not even just about the press. It's also about the police. And, yes, it's also about how politics works and politicians too."

Underlining the seriousness of the threat facing Murdoch's empire, the Financial Times newspaper reported that the media baron would fly to London to handle the crisis. A spokeswoman for Murdoch's News International company declined to comment.

Other newspapers, to be published on Saturday, claimed that at least one executive at the company may have deleted millions of emails related to police investigations into phone hacking, a charge the spokeswoman said was "rubbish."   Continued...

<p>Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a news conference at number 10 Downing Street in London July 8, 2011. Cameron said on Friday he believed that his former communications chief Andy Coulson was being investigated over allegations of phone hacking during his time as editor of the News of the World. REUTERS/Peter Macdiarmid/pool</p>