British PM says hacking scandal poses 'big problems'

19th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday acknowledged the enormity of the phone hacking scandal that has put him under mounting pressure, but said it would not distract him from running the country.

Speaking in Lagos near the end of a two-day trade visit to Africa that has been overshadowed by the crisis, Cameron spoke of the "big problems" posed by the scandal embroiling the police, media and politicians.

"I know people at home are concerned about the hacking scandal. Let me just say this: I don't underestimate the problems," he told a press conference after talks with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

"Parts of the media committed dreadful, illegal acts. The police have serious questions to answer about potential corruption and about a failed investigation. Politicians have been too close to media owners.

"These are big problems but we are a big country and we are going to sort them out."

He insisted that the job of governing would continue, and pointed to his trip -- cut short so he can return to Britain to prepare for a statement to parliament on Wednesday -- as proof that he was still working for the country.

"I want to give reassurances to people back at home," he said.

"We are not going to take our eye off the ball of getting our economy to grow, getting jobs for our people and making sure we have got a strong immigration and welfare system and doing all the things that the British people are crying out for."

Cameron spoke as media mogul Rupert Murdoch, his son James and ex-aide Rebekah Brooks faced an extraordinary showdown with British MPs Tuesday over the scandal.

The prime minister led a high-profile trade delegation on his trip, which included a visit to South Africa for talks with President Jacob Zuma on Monday, and he stressed that deals reached could help provide jobs at home.

He and Jonathan agreed to double trade between the two countries to £8 billion (nine billion euros, 13 billion dollars) by 2014, while he also pledged support for plans for an African free trade agreement.

Britain and Nigeria would also work to double Nigeria's woeful power supply by 2015, with the oil-rich nation hit by daily outages. Jonathan plans to privatise power generation and distribution in a bid to improve the situation.

Despite the turmoil dominating the headlines at home, Cameron continued his schedule as planned Tuesday morning, first by visiting a clinic where he met women bringing their babies to be vaccinated against yellow fever.

He later gave a speech to Lagos Business School at the Pan African University, ahead of his talks with Jonathan.

Cameron's visit was aimed at pushing a message of trade, aid and democracy, calling on the continent to make use of "Africa's moment."

Cameron could not escape the scandal at home however, with one person in the audience at his speech on Tuesday morning asking him a question about the News of the World and media independence.

In his response, Cameron stressed the need for strong, independent news media, but also responsible regulation.

Cameron will arrive back in Britain late Tuesday to prepare for his statement to the House of Commons on the phone hacking crisis, and to answer questions about his own role in the affair.

"I will set out all the steps we are going to take to get on top of this situation and this issue of media hacking," he said of his statement planned for Wednesday.

"I will then push ahead with the vital reforms we need to get Britain back on track."

He is under increasing pressure over his decision to hire Andy Coulson, a former editor at the scandal-hit News of the World, as his media chief until January.

Coulson was arrested earlier this month over alleged hacking and police corruption, although he denies any wrongdoing.

© 2011 AFP

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