Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown slammed News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch and the news judgment of his U.K. tabloids during testimony Monday to the Leveson inquiry into media ethics.
"If you conflate fact and opinion and put it on the front page of your newspaper...then that's not a healthy sign for democracy," Brown told the panel.
Wearing a dark suit and allowing only occasional glimmers of sardonic humor to peek through in testimony that stretched over an hour, Brown attacked the "fishing expeditions" he claimed journalists at Murdoch's papers led against politicians who ran afoul of their News Corp.'s business interests.
While saying that a shared Scottish background lubricated social interactions with Murdoch, Brown forcefully denied that his relationship with the media baron influenced his policies or decisions.
Brown said that Murdoch would have wanted the United Kingdom to remove itself from the European Union and joked wryly that he would have wanted the country to go to war with France and Germany and become America's 51st state.
"The idea that I was following his views is ridiculous," Brown said.
The Leveson inquiry was formed last summer in the wake of the phone hacking and bribery scandal that engulfed News Corp.'s U.K. operations. It is investigating both the extent of the illegal news-gathering tactics at the company's former tabloid News of the World and the general culture of British media.
Brown, who served as Labour prime minister from 2007 to 2010, accused News Corp. papers like the Sun and News of the World of trying to embarrass his government with "sensationalized" coverage of everything from the war in Afghanistan to his personal real estate transactions because it had decided that its commercial ambitions were better aligned with the Conservative party's agenda.
"I don't see us having the support of the Sun for almost all the time that I was prime minister," Brown said.
In testimony that contradicts claims made by Murdoch, Brown denied that he had phoned the media mogul and threatened to "make war" after his papers endorsed the Conservatives in the 2010 election.
"I've never asked a newspaper for the support directly and I've never complained when they haven't given us the support," Brown said.
He also contradicted claims made by Rebekah Brooks that the Browns had consented to have a story published in a News Corp. owned paper that his infant son Fraser had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
"I have never sought to bring my children into the public domain, but I do think that if we don't learn the lessons from this we will continue to make mistakes," Brown said.
Brooks, a former top lieutenant to Murdoch, was editor of the News of the World when hacking took place. She resigned from the company in July after criticism intensified over her handling of the scandal and was charged last month with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Brown said his wife Sarah maintained contact with Brooks after the story was published in 2006, because she has a forgiving nature and not due to the editor's power and influence.
"I think [Sarah] finds the good in everyone," Brown said.