April 24, 2012 16.21 Europe/London By Julian Clover
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt stands accused of giving a running commentary on his actions in the News Corp takeover of BSkyB to those at the centre of the proposed transaction.
In over six hours of testimony at the Leveson inquiry into media ethics, former BSkyB and News International chairman James Murdoch described how he had discussed the bid with prime minister David Cameron at a pre-Christmas dinner at the home of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
The dinner on December 23, 2010, was just two days after business secretary Vince Cable had been stripped of his responsibilities in the takeover after he had been recorded by a Daily Telegraph journalist as saying he had “declared war” on Murdoch. It was at this point that the decision was handed to the culture secretary.
The News Corp bid for BSkyB was later withdrawn in July 2011 amid the growing phonehacking scandal.
Leveson also considered emails sent by Frederic Michel, News Corp head of public affairs. In one Michel recorded that he had received a note from Adam Smith, an advisor to the culture secretary, that the UK government would be supportive of the bid.
In another Hunt says he cannot laud remedies too much or there will be demand for them to be published. Then in a later piece of correspondence Michel quotes Hunt as saying “we are in a good place tonight”.
Hunt’s role was to act as an impartial judge on the transaction.
Murdoch denied that he would link support for a politician in one of his newspapers with a commercial transaction. “I simply would not do business that way,” he said.
Earlier, Murdoch was read by counsel a comment on Hunt’s website in which the culture secretary was described as “a cheerleader for Rupert Murdoch’s contribution to British television.”
Murdoch said he would not describe it in that way.
Hunt, who is also the minister responsible for the Olympics, is said to be prepared to appear before Leveson at a later date.
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