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Sun 17 January 2021

The Chancellor held a private meeting with the Murdoch media bigwig, reports Sam Bright

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, held a private meeting with News UK CEO Rebekah Brooks in late April, Byline Times can reveal.

Official records show that Sunak schmoozed Brooks on 30 April, when the UK was in the depths of its first nationwide lockdown. There are few details of what the pair discussed, however, with the purpose of the meeting merely listed as “media engagement”.

A notorious right-wing media operator, Brooks currently runs News UK, which publishes the Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers. The publisher is owned by News Corporation, which in turn is owned by right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his family.

Embedded in the Murdoch machine, Brooks was the editor of the now defunct News of the World from 2000 to 2003, editor of the Sun from 2003 to 2009, and CEO of News International from 2009 to 2011. Brooks was a prominent figure in the phone-hacking scandal, when it was revealed that a News of the World story published during her tenure allegedly involved illegal phone-hacking. She was cleared of charges in 2014.

Brooks has long had close relationships with senior government figures, notably former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron, who both benefitted from the support of the Murdoch media empire.

It appears as though the current Chancellor is seeking to benefit from this same patronage, after rapidly rising to the second most powerful position in Government. Indeed, it has been speculated that Sunak is even positioning himself as a potential alternative to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, should the Conservative Party decide to contest the next election with a new leader.

Sunak’s media outreach campaign also hasn’t stopped at Brooks. Records show that, on the same day as he met her, the MP for Richmond, in North Yorkshire, held meetings with the Telegraph editor Chris Evans, and the Financial Times‘ CEO John Ridding.

Two days earlier, on 28 April, Sunak held a conference call with black and minority ethnic journalists from eight different media outlets, and on 15 April he hosted a meeting with the editor of the Financial Times, Roula Khalaf. The topics discussed at these meetings are once again listed in generic, vague terms.

In May and June, the Chancellor went on to hold personal meetings with the editor of the Sun, the editor of The Times, the editor of the Daily Mail, the economics editor of the Financial Times, as well as journalists from the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, Reuters, the BBC, ITV, and Bloomberg.

The Treasury has, of course, been at the apex of the Government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic, giving out billions in measures designed to keep the economy afloat. Sunak is also regarded as one of the Government’s best media performers, epitomised by the fact that he stood-in for Johnson during General Election debates in 2019, despite then holding the relatively low-level ministerial role of Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

However, Sunak’s media charm offensive has vastly exceeded the efforts of any other minister, even the Prime Minister, and hints at grander political ambitions. It also typifies the cosy relationship between much of the media and senior politicians – a system that risks corrupting basic principles of democratic accountability.

Fortunately, Byline Times doesn’t anticipate having a friendly chat with Sunak – or any minister – any time soon.


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