The Leveson inquiry into press standards in Britain heard evidence given all day by Jeremy Hunt, the minister who oversaw the bid by the Murdoch Empire to take full ownership of the broadcaster BSkyB.
Media plurality is at the core of Mr. Hunt’s role as Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sports. He was grilled after sending a supportive text to James Murdoch on the day he was made adjudicator of the bid.
The text message read: “Great and congrats on Brussels, just Ofcom to go!“ which refers to a decision by EU regulators in Brussels to approve the BSkyB takeover, in which Murdoch’s company News Corp was minority stakeholder, and to a decision yet to be taken by the British regulator, Ofcom.
“I was sympathetic of the bid,” Hunt said, in response to a question whether he thought his message was favourable. He added he was trying to calm James Murdoch after Vince Cable, the minister who was originally in charge of the bid was recorded secretly saying he had “declared war” against the bid by Murdochs.
After the full-day questioning, Downing Street announced that “the PM believes that Jeremy Hunt acted properly when he was responsible for the bid and will not be referring his case to the adviser on the ministerial code.”
The opposition was quick to react. The Labour party’s deputy leader said it was “deplorable” that Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron “is keeping in his cabinet, someone who has broken the ministerial code and misled Parliament.” Harriet Harman said “He should not have given the decision to Mr Hunt in the first place as he was clearly biased.”
Labour had already called for the resignation of Mr. Hunt over his handling of the bid.
The inquiry opened on November 14 last year. Many prominent figures in the media and politics have appeared to give evidence so far, including former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, writer JK Rowling, actor Hugh Grant, and Murdoch’s protégée Rebekah Brooks, who has now been charged in connection to the original hacking scandal at one of Murdoch’s tabloid titles.
Rupert Murdoch is often cited as one of the most influential men in British politics. His company News International runs the Sun newspaper, a daily which has had the largest circulation of any in the UK for years.
His weekly News of the World was the highest-selling Sunday paper in the country before its sudden shut-down over the large-scale phone-hacking scandal that prompted the inquiry itself.
This is not the happiest day for Mr. Cameron’s government. His former director of communications Andy Coulson was formally charged with perjury and arrested yesterday. It related to a court case in which Mr. Coulson is accused of lying.
Coulson had to resign from his post at Number 10 in January 2011, blaming the media coverage of the phone hacking scandal by the News of the World, which he edited from 2003 to 2007. He was then arrested in June 2011 over his role in the scandal, but later released on bail.