Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt today told the Leveson Inquiry that the closure of the News of the World in the midst of the phone-hacking scandal had made him re-evaluate parent company News Corp’s bid for BSkyB.
Mr Hunt admitted that he had previously been in favour of the Murdoch takeover, but claimed he had been able to put personal bias aside when handed the “quasi-judicial” role of adjudicating on the bid, saying: “When I took charge of bid, my job was to ensure our democracy was safe.”
Addressing the resignation of his special adviser Adam Smith, Hunt blamed the “inappropriately” intimate language used by Smith on the volume of communication was subjected to by Murdoch lobbyist Frédéric Michel. However, he insisted Smith was “repeating stuff News International would already have known was my thinking”.
When asked about his views on the future of press regulation, Hunt said he would not wish to endanger free expression, but suggested that a future regulator may need to include digital and on-demand platforms as well as traditional publishing.
Hunt had been battling to save his political career following the revelation of close contact between his department and News Corp during the time of the BSkyB bid, leading to Smith’s resignation and pressure from Labour that the culture secretary had not been the “impartial arbiter” he was required to be.
Yet shortly after his appearance at the Inquiry, Downing Street announced David Cameron was satisfied Hunt had acted “properly” throughout the bid, and that he would not order an investigation into whether Hunt breached the ministerial code.
The Inquiry continues on Monday 11 June.
UPDATE 01/06: Labour said this morning it will call a vote in the House of Commons over Hunt’s conduct.
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