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Jeremy Hunt resists Labour call to quit over BSkyB deal

Category: Politics

Published: 25th Apr 2012 07:40:51

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has rejected Labour calls for him to resign over claims that he privately supported attempts by News Corporation to take full control of BSkyB.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said emails given to the Leveson Inquiry showed Mr Hunt had been a "back channel" for News Corp rather than being impartial.

But Mr Hunt insisted he had handled the process with "scrupulous fairness".

News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch will give evidence at the inquiry later.

A string of emails released by the inquiry into press standards suggests there was a steady flow of information from the culture secretary's office to News Corp advisers when the firm was bidding to take over BSkyB.

Jeremy Hunt has Number 10's backing but his position remains precarious. There are several fronts to the culture secretary's defence.

By consulting with regulators and civil servants throughout the bid to he insists he acted with integrity and scrupulous objectivity, with the permanent secretary at the culture department agreeing that Mr Hunt's special advisor should act as a conduit with News Corp during the process.

Mr Hunt argues that the texts and emails seen so far are a partial, second hand account of what was going.

And yet, the chummy channel of communication from his aide to News Corporation provided the company with a huge amount of inside information, sometimes before Parliament, and raises questions about whether the information given to the company undermined the quasi-judicial process or breached the ministerial code.

The issue is sure to dominate Prime Minister's Questions and Ed Miliband may probe the Prime Minister about his chat with James Murdoch about the BSkyB bid at a dinner at Rebekah Brooks' house in December 2010.

At the same time, Rupert Murdoch will be giving his evidence to the Levison enquiry, testimony that could be very uncomfortable for Cabinet ministers past and present.

In one, Frederic Michel, head of public affairs at News Corp, told News Corp executive James Murdoch he had managed to get some information on Mr Hunt's statement on the BSkyB bid to Parliament due the next day "although absolutely illegal..>!".

Mr Murdoch told the inquiry that the reference had been a "joke".

But Labour said the documents showed Mr Hunt failed to fulfil his quasi-judicial role over the BSkyB bid.

Mr Miliband said: "He should resign. He himself said that his duty was to be transparent, impartial and fair in the BSkyB takeover.

"But now we know that he was providing advice, guidance and privileged access to News Corporation. He was acting as a back channel for the Murdochs.

"He cannot stay in his post. And if he refuses to resign, the prime minister must show some leadership and fire him."

Mr Hunt said he behaved with absolute integrity when he considered the case, and Prime Minister David Cameron said he had "full confidence" in his culture secretary.

Mr Hunt said he had asked Lord Justice Leveson to bring forward his appearance at the inquiry.

He had been due to give evidence along with other politicians including the prime minister in May.

Mr Hunt said: "Now is not a time for kneejerk reactions. We've heard one side of the story today but some of the evidence reported meetings and conversations that simply didn't happen.

"Rather than jump on a political bandwagon, we need to hear what Lord Justice Leveson thinks after he's heard all the evidence."

In June 2010, News Corp had been bidding to take over the 61% of BSkyB it did not already own.

That November, Business Secretary Vince Cable asked media regulator Ofcom to look at the potential impact of the deal on media plurality.

George Galloway: "Both parties are guilty of being in a bed with an evil wicked empire"

Mr Hunt took over responsibility for overseeing the BSkyB bid after Mr Cable was stripped of the role in December 2010, having been secretly recorded saying he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch.

The company abandoned the bid in July 2011 after the phone-hacking scandal emerged.

Rupert Murdoch will face two days of questioning at the inquiry under oath.

He will be asked about the phone-hacking scandal which eventually led to the News of the World being closed down.

Mr Murdoch will also be pressed on how much influence his newspapers have on public life in the UK.

News Corp owns the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times, and has a 39% interest in satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry was set up after allegations that the News of the World hacked into the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

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BBC News, 2012. Jeremy Hunt resists Labour call to quit over BSkyB deal [Online] (Updated 25th Apr 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1424428/Jeremy-Hunt-resists-Labour-call-to-quit-over-BSkyB-deal [Accessed 28th Aug 2014]

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