BRITISH PRIME MINISTER David Cameron faces an uncomfortable appearance before Britain’s press-ethics inquiry later today, with the spotlight set be shone on his links to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Cameron’s testimony is scheduled to take up a full six-and-a-half-hour day of the televised inquiry at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, and is likely to focus on his relationships with former Murdoch high-fliers Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson.
Brooks, a friend of the Camerons and former editor of the News of the World, has been arrested over the phone-hacking scandal that shut the Murdoch tabloid and led to the creation of the inquiry, chaired by judge Brian Leveson.
The former Murdoch top aide has also been charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, and will appear in court to answer the accusations on 22 June after being granted bail by a London court on Wednesday.
Brooks, 44, faces three charges of removing boxes of material from the archive of News International, and trying to conceal documents, computers and other material from police during the frantic last days of the News of the World.
The prime minister may also be asked about his former media chief Andy Coulson, another ex-editor of the News of the World, who has been charged with perjury in a case relating to a story in the paper.
Coulson was separately arrested last year on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption.
The tabloid closed down in disgrace in July 2011 after it emerged that it had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler, a murdered schoolgirl.
Cameron’s appearance comes amid new reverberations from the scandal, with a rift opening in the coalition government over a parliamentary vote concerning a minister’s dealings with Murdoch’s US-based News Corporation.
The Liberal Democrats, the government’s junior partner, on Wednesday said they would not back embattled Conservative culture minister Jeremy Hunt over his handling of News Corp’s bid for full control of pay-TV giant BSkyB.
Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told his lawmakers they could abstain from a vote introduced by the opposition Labour party calling for a probe into whether Hunt broke the ministerial code of conduct.
The Conservatives still won the non-binding vote, by 290 to 252, a majority of 38, but the result exposed the divisions in the coalition.
Hunt defended himself against the “disgraceful allegation” that he deliberately misled parliament, telling opposition lawmakers: “I have made huge efforts to be transparent and you know that perfectly well.”
News Corp abandoned the BSkyB bid when the hacking scandal blew up last year.
Clegg told the inquiry in evidence on Wednesday that his party had not tried to curry favour with Murdoch as the Conservatives and Labour had.
Cameron launched the Leveson Inquiry in July 2011 to examine British press ethics in reaction to the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World.
It is due to produce a report, likely to include recommendations on the future of press regulation, in October and will also include a probe into the extent of journalists’ illegal activities.
But in recent weeks the government itself has also appeared to be on trial, even as the Conservative-led coalition struggles to recover from several budget blunders and news that Britain is back in recession.
Cameron has been rehearsing his testimony with friend and co-chairman of the Conservative Party Andrew Feldman, who has been playing the role of chief counsel for the inquiry Robert Jay, according to the Daily Mail newspaper.
More than 40 people have been arrested over the phone-hacking scandal, which involved claims of illegal access to voicemails and subsequent attempts to hide evidence.
Police are also investigating accusations of inappropriate payments to public officials.