British PM 'damaged' by media chief's resignation

22nd January 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron has been damaged by his media chief's resignation over phone-hacking at a tabloid newspaper he headed and the row is unlikely to go away, commentators said Saturday.

"So far, our worst day in government," a senior aide from Cameron's Downing Street office told The Guardian, after Andy Coulson quit as chief of communications on Friday.

The left-wing newspaper added that Coulson's departure "leaves the prime minister with a crucial vacancy as the coalition government weathers dissent about cuts" in public spending introduced to reduce a huge budget deficit.

Coulson had been under pressure for months about what he knew about a phone-hacking scandal at the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World weekly in 2005-6, when he was its editor.

He quit in January 2007 when the paper's royal editor was jailed for hacking into phones belonging to Princes William and Harry, but insisted he never knew anything about it.

Amid a wave of fresh allegations to the contrary and a new scandal at the tabloid, however, he announced Friday: "I stand by what I've said about those events but when the spokesman needs a spokesman, it's time to move on."

Cameron said he was "very sorry" at the departure of the 43-year-old, who helped his Conservative party take power after May 2010 elections.

But opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband questioned why the prime minister "hung on to Andy Coulson for so long", and many newspapers took the same line.

The left-leaning Independent said the resignation cast "serious doubt" on Cameron's judgment and The Financial Times said the premier was "reckless" to have hired Coulson in the first place.

However, the FT said that in putting the issue of phone-hacking back at the top of the news agenda, the resignation posed the biggest trouble for the News of the World's owners.

Murdoch's News Corporation is currently trying to persuade regulators to let it take over pay television giant BSkyB.

"The company has in the past made big out-of-court settlements to individuals whose phones were hacked," the FT said in an editorial.

It added: "Were it to be proven that it had bought off potential witnesses in a future criminal prosecution, this could disqualify it from owning a broadcaster."

© 2011 AFP

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