British Prime Minister David Cameron vigorously denied that he had exchanged favors for the support of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers during a lengthy testimony to a media ethics panel Thursday.
"There was no overt deal for support, there was no covert deal, there was no nods and winks, there was a conservative politician, me, trying to win over newspapers ... but not trading policies for that support," Cameron said.
Cameron was appearing before the Leveson Inquiry, a judge-led panel that was formed last summer after evidence of widespread phone hacking and bribery emerged at News Corp.'s U.K.-based tabloids.
Gordon Brown, the man he replaced at 10 Downing Street in 2010, charged that Cameron's Conservative Party had endorsed deregulatory policies favored by the Murdoch family in exchange for its backing in the election.
Cameron said Brown's allegations were a case of sour grapes.
"He has cooked up an entirely specious and unjustified conspiracy theory to try to, I don’t know, justify his anger," Cameron said.
Cameron acknowledged that he had assiduously courted Murdoch and other conservative newspapers to bolster enthusiasm for his party and its agenda, but said that he differed from them on a number of key issues -- principally his support for the BBC.
"Of course all businesses have their interests and the rest of it, but in my dealings with Rupert Murdoch, most of the conversation has been about big international political issues," Cameron said.
He did acknowledge receiving a supportive text message from Rebekah Brooks, a top Murdoch lieutenant and the former head of News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper division, prior to a crucial policy speech in October 2009.
In that message, Brooks said that she was "rooting" for him, assuring Cameron that "we're definitely in this together."
Cameron said that he interpreted the message to mean they were "pushing the same political agenda."
Brooks was forced out of News Corp. last summer in the wake of the hacking scandal. She was charged last month with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and faces criminal charges.
Cameron was also grilled on his hiring of Andy Coulson, a former editor at News Corp.'s tabloids who was linked to the hacking scandal, as his communications director.
Cameron indicated he regretted the move, but said that Coulson had struck him as an effective person who could help him get his message out to the press.
"That was my decision; I take full responsibility for it." Cameron said.
Unlike Gordon Brown, who offered a blistering assessment of the state of the British media during his testimony before the inquiry this week, Cameron felt that news organizations were by and large performing a valuable social service. He did acknowledge the more regulation and transparency was required in the wake of the hacking scandal, but he added that politicians have to do their part to improve relations with the Fourth Estate.
"Respect has to be earned on both sides," Cameron said.