Leveson inquiry: James Murdoch and Hunt’s contact with News Corp over BSkyB bid

James Murdoch’s appearance at the Leveson Inquiry has shone an uncomfortable light on News Corporation’s abandoned takeover of BSkyB and Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt’s role in the process.

Emails released as part of the inquiry suggest Hunt was in close contact with News Corp during the Autumn of 2010 as the media giant tried to gain full control of BSkyB.

At the time Hunt was not directly involved in the process. That job had fallen to Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable. However, Cable was removed from involvement and the job went to Hunt after the former told undercover Daily Telegraph reporters he had “declared war on Mr Murdoch”.

Cable was removed for his lack of impartiality and now at the inquiry today James Murdoch was shown emails written by News Corp’s head of public affairs, Fred Michel, that suggested News Corp was in close contact with Hunt as the BSkyB bid progressed, during which time Hunt held a quasi-judicial role in the process.

In several emails messages Michel talks about “intelligence from ‘Jeremy” or “JH”. The emails suggest that Hunt had a positive view of the BSkyB takeover bid and that the minister was far from impartial.

Hunt’s special adviser phoned Michel on 15 June 2010, shortly after the £8bn takeover was announced, to tell him in an email he sent to Murdoch that there “shouldn’t be media plurality issue [with News Corp's bid for Sky] and believed the UK government would be supportive throughout the process”.

The culture secretary then phoned Michel directly, according to Michel’s email, on 15 July 2011 to say that he had just given an interview to the Financial Times. Ahead of publication, Hunt told Michel – according to the News Corp’s lobbyist’s email – that he had told the newspaper that he “he didn’t see any problems” with the News Corp bid for Sky.

Counsel for the inquiry Robert Jay, QC, suggested to Murdoch it was “clear that you were receiving information along the lines that the UK government as a whole would be supportive of News Corp”, the Guardian reports.

Labour MP John Mann has now written to Hunt calling for an investigation into contact between the Government and News Corp during the BSkyB takeover, which was ultimately derailed in the wake of widespread public and political opposition in light of allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.

by the closure of the News of the World.

James Murdoch defended Michel and said the lobbyist and public affairs chief was “doing his job”.

He also said that Hunt was not passing out any confidential information to News Corp.

“There’s no special information or anything like that in there…I haven’t actually spent that much time with politicians personally and certainly most of my interaction with these politicians has been around BSkyB where the sort of politics of news and things like that don’t really fit in,” James Murdoch said.

James Murdoch also admitted having a brief discussion with prime minister David Cameron about News Corp’s bid to buy out BSkyB at a Christmas dinner on 23 December 2001.

The disclosure by Murdoch marks the first time that News Corporation’s deputy chief executive has admitted discussing the bid with the prime minister.

Cameron had previously refused to deny that he spoke about BSkyB’s bid during the dinner, on December 23, 2010, which was hosted by former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie Brooks.

Murdoch’s written statement said: “I recall speaking briefly to the prime minister on one occasion about the proposal. This was on 23 December 2010 at a dinner hosted by Rebekah Brooks and attended by a number of other people.”, Brand Republic reports.

On Twitter the story has led to speculation that Hunt could be the next minister to go from the cabinet.

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