UK PM Has Regrets Over Hiring Ex-Murdoch Editor

David Cameron told the British parliament on Wednesday of his regrets over hiring former News Corporation employee Andy Coulson, who was arrested on July 8 over phone-hacking allegations.

David Cameron
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David Cameron

Cameron employed Coulson as his director of communications until Coulson resigned earlier this year, amid reports about phone hacking while he was editor of News of the World. Coulson had resigned from the British tabloid after one of its reporters was jailed over alleged phone hacking.

"With hindsight I would not have offered him the job and I don’t think he would have taken it," he said, to jeers from opposition Members of Parliament (MPs). "It was my decision and I take responsibility. Of course I regret the furor it has caused."

Cameron added: "You live and learn, and believe you me I have learnt."

The phone-hacking affair "has shaken people's trust in politics and politicians' ability to get to grips with these issues," Cameron said.

Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, called Coulson's hiring a "catastrophic error of judgment," adding that Cameron was caught in a "tragic conflict of loyalty" over Coulson. Miliband employs Tom Baldwin, a former employee of News Corp-owned The Times, as his director of strategy and communications.

BSkyB Controversy

Asked about News Corp's bid for the 61 percent of BSkyB it does not already own, which drew allegations that the Prime Minister was too close to News Corp, Cameron said: "I never had one inappropriate conversation. I completely took myself out of any decision making about this bid."

The BSkyB bid was passed by the government, even though Murdoch already controlled 40 percent of the British press, and abandoned by News Corp in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

Cameron admitted there were "issues of excessive closeness" between the press and politicians. His friendship with former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, who resigned last week and later arrested in connection with the hacking scandal, has come under the spotlight in recent weeks.

"We did spend too much time trying to get on with media companies and as a result we've too often put on a back burner the issues of how to regulate the media," Cameron said.

He also said the U.K. public wants a "more healthy relationship between politicians and media owners," in a reference to the connections between Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire and politicians and policemen, which have emerged in recent weeks.

Cameron noted, however, that the public has issues they care about "even more," including the economy and the euro zone debt crisis.

Summer Break Delayed

Cameron hurried back from a trip to Africa and delayed Parliament's summer recess for a day to make the statement. His appearance follows Rupert and James Murdoch's hearing in front of another committee Wednesday, when Wendi Murdoch, Rupert's wife, defended him from a pie-throwing protestor. (See a slideshow of 11 public figures who have been pied.)

John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, condemned the security failure before Cameron's speech.

News Corp said Wednesday it has terminated legal payments to Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator implicated in the phone-hacking scandal.

scandal roiling Britain's establishment.An influential committee of British lawmakers condemned News International's actionson phone hacking and accused News Corp's British newspaper wing of trying to "deliberately thwart" the police investigation into the initial allegations Thursday.

Rupert Murdoch told MPs that News Corp had been caught "with dirty hands" over the affair. He said that he had not known about the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's voicemail, the announcement of which helped unleash a flood of other revelations, until very recently.

Brooks also denied knowing about the hacking, although she was editor of the News of the World at the time.