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Murdoch admits ties to officials in U.K., but not to obtain favors

Rupert Murdoch acknowledged frequent, close contact with high-ranking British officials during a grilling at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday but emphatically denied ever asking for or receiving government favors for his media empire.

Testifying as part of an inquiry ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of a phone-hacking scandal, Murdoch related lively anecdotes -- including the time in 2008 when then-opposition leader Cameron was flown by Murdoch's son-in-law to Santorini, Greece, to join Murdoch for drinks on either his or his daughter's yacht.

Murdoch, 81, chairman of News Corp., said he didn't remember the specifics of the meeting. Politicians of all hues, he said, "go out of their way to impress people in the press. That's part of the game."

In a rare spot of levity, Murdoch laughed and accepted that he may have once told Tony Blair, prior to Blair's becoming prime minister in 1997, that "if our flirtation is ever consummated, then I expect we will end up making love like porcupines -- very, very carefully."

But he stressed -- by loudly banging his hand on the table -- that "in 10 years of his power there, I never asked Mr. Blair for anything. Nor indeed did I receive any favors."

Tuesday, Murdoch's son James triggered a firestorm by telling the inquiry about News Corp.'s contact with the government's culture office while the company was attempting a full takeover of Britain's largest provider of pay TV.

The inquiry published 161 pages of emails and text messages that appear to show aides to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt secretly feeding News Corp. information about the bid, even though Hunt was supposed to be acting in a quasi-judicial role.

In the wake of those revelations, an aide to Hunt, Adam Smith, announced Wednesday that he would resign.

The elder Murdoch is chairman and CEO of News Corp., the world's second-largest media conglomerate.

Murdoch has been at the center of British life since he bought the News of the World tabloid more than 40 years ago. He closed the newspaper last summer after revelations that its journalists had hacked into mobile phones of celebrities, politicians and murder victims in order to pursue stories.

When asked whether he agreed with am assertion from a book that, at the Sun and the News of the World, he had "exercised editorial control on major issues like which party to back in a general election or policy on Europe," Murdoch responded: "Well, I never much interfered with News of the World, I'm sorry to say. But, yes, I'm a curious person who is interested in the great issues of the day, and I'm not good at holding my tongue."