LONDON - Rupert Murdoch began giving evidence on Wednesday to confront charges that he used his clout to curry favour with a succession of British leaders, electrifying a media inquiry that has become increasingly damaging for the government.
An appearance by Rupert's son James on Tuesday revealed how a government minister had sought to help Murdoch's News Corp in an ultimately abortive takeover bid, a toxic admission for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is already seen as too close to the Murdochs.
The 81-year-old media mogul, wearing a bright blue tie, appeared under oath at the Victorian gothic courtroom, watched by his son Lachlan and wife Wendi Deng.
Murdoch was immediately asked about his relationship to politics and British "toffs", a reference to his regular attacks on Britain's gilded establishment, which he says is snobbish and inefficient.
"I have never asked a prime minister for anything," Murdoch said. "I welcome the opportunity (to appear) because I wanted to put some myths to bed," he added, weighing his words before replying to questions from one of London's top lawyers.
Many are expecting Murdoch, who has courted prime ministers and presidents for decades, to come out fighting, having been on the back foot for almost a year over a newspaper phone hacking scandal.
"He's the master of the barbed quote, the one-liner," Neil Chenoweth, a veteran Australian investigative journalist who has written two books on Murdoch, told Reuters. "He just lets it drop, and his delivery makes it absolutely lethal."
The revelation that a government minister had sought to help the Murdoch in his business dealings go to the heart of the issue in Britain, that Murdoch wields too much influence and that this resulted in a company culture that rode roughshod over rules and regulations.
The minister, media secretary Jeremy Hunt, briefed News Corp on the thinking of regulators and leaked confidential information, while at the same time acting for the government in deciding whether to approve the $12 billion deal.
The pressure on Hunt dominated the local news agenda on Wednesday, with newspaper front pages declaring that the Murdochs had declared revenge on the government. The front page of the left-leaning Guardian described Hunt as the "Minister for Murdoch".
News Corp said it had been required by law to produce the email documents that revealed the contact with Hunt.