February 14, 2011
What is it with politicians and freebies? During Tony Blair’s decade as Great Britain’s prime minister, he was never known to pay for a vacation. His hosts included Rupert Murdoch, Silvio Berlusconi, the Bee Gees” Robin Gibb, Cliff Richard, businessmen such as Anthony Bamford and Alain-Dominique Perrin, and a hotel-tycoon friend of Mubarak’s (Gamal Omar) at Sharm el-Sheikh. (After so many Sinai holidays as Mr. Omar’s guest, Blair is known around town as “Mr. Tony.”) Lolling by the sea at the expense of singers such as Gibb and Richard seems innocuous, but these vacations accompanied Blair’s strenuous lobbying for changes to Britain’s copyright laws granting musicians additional royalties from their dreadful music.
While a young rising star of his party in 1989, Blair’s successor David Cameron accepted a South African government junket. 1989? Wasn”t Nelson Mandela still in prison? Wasn”t the apartheid regime shooting any black African who requested what Egyptians have been demanding for the last few weeks, i.e., the right to vote? That could be seen as a youthful error of judgment except for Cameron’s decision to take a free ride on the good yacht Rosehearty near Santorini in 2008. The flights to this rendezvous were paid by the son-in-law of the boat’s proprietor, that great benefactor of good causes, Mr. Rupert Murdoch. Cameron’s culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, while still grooming himself in opposition for higher office, admitted taking free tickets to sporting events funded by businesses with interests in government policies including the Royal Bank of Scotland, Independent Television, and Pinewood Studios. Hunt has the power to approve Murdoch’s full takeover of satellite television provider BSkyB or refer it for consideration by the Monopolies Commission.
Don”t worry, though. Our free press is all over this story. As the British journalist website journoworld.co.uk advises, “Because of how badly you get paid, it can be worth keeping an eye out for opportunities for getting things for free.”
It’s not called the free press for nothing. One British journalist complains she was fired from a woman’s fashion magazine for reporting elsewhere about all the presents offered her in one month. Among them was “a week on a yacht in Capri.”
When the Shah of Iran pulled a Mubarak back in 1979, the new regime published the names of all the foreign politicians and journalists who had received Persian carpets, paid holidays, and buckets of caviar from the old regime. We await the release of similar files in Tunis and Cairo.
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