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Leveson Inquiry: Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt Under Fire Over Allegations He Provided ‘back Channel’ to News Corp

Posted on the 25 April 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Jeremy Hunt under fire over Leveson revelations

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt: Time to resign? photo: HowardLake

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is resisting calls to resign over allegations he provided private assistance to News Corporation’s BSkyB takeover bid. The claims emerged as News Corp executive James Murdoch was giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

The background. As culture secretary, Hunt had a quasi-judicial role in deciding whether to allow News Corp’s bid to take full control of broadcaster BSkyB. Initially, Business Secretary Vince Cable was in charge of assessing the bid, in particular whether a News Corp takeover would conflict with anti-monopoly laws. But the Lib Dem lost this role in December 2010 after declaring “war” on Rupert Murdoch in a secret recording, and Conservative Hunt was put in charge. News Corp dropped the bid in July 2011 in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

The allegations. Jeremy Hunt has been accused of lacking impartiality in his assessment of the bid and of misleading the House of Commons. The allegations arose from emails passed to the Leveson Inquiry by News Corp, which apparently show that Hunt provided information to James Murdoch via Fréd Michel, director of public affairs at the media giant during the takeover bid. Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for Hunt to resign, arguing that the culture secretary was “acting as a back channel for the Murdochs”, reported the BBC. But Hunt has denied wrongdoing and has asked to appear in front of the Leveson Inquiry to clear his name, according to The Guardian.

The BBC provided a summary of the main points of the 163-page dossier of emails released by the Leveson Inquiry relating to the News Corp BSkyB takeover bid.

Hunt should resign. “It is one thing for a lobbyist to put their employer’s case, and for government ministers and officials to hear it. But what has been exposed here is something else entirely; indeed it looks little short of collusion,” said an Independent editorial, arguing that Hunt’s position is now untenable. “Fair or not, the damage is done and he cannot credibly continue in the job.”

“I am going to be making a very, very determined effort to show that I behaved with total integrity and conducted this process scrupulously fairly,” Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said after James Murdoch’s evidence to the Leveson inquiry, reported The Telegraph.

Cameron to blame. According to a Telegraph editorial, Hunt was merely following the lead of UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The editorial pointed out that James Murdoch told the Leveson inquiry that he had talked about the BSkyB takeover bid with Cameron at a Christmas dinner hosted by Rebekah Wade. “Mr Cameron has been the real cheerleader for the Murdoch empire in this administration. Since becoming leader of the Conservative Party, he has taken as many pains to cultivate his relationship with the Murdochs and their acolytes as he has to conceal just how close it is,” said the paper.

Questions to answer. James Murdoch’s evidence to the Leveson inquiry raises important questions about the relationship between press and politicians, said a Times (£) editorial, and Hunt must now clarify his position. “At best, his office was providing a running commentary on a deal on which Mr Hunt was supposed to be adjudicating,” said the editorial. “At worst, he was betraying the confidences in government.”

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