Business secretary Vince Cable has said he had heard of “veiled threats” to his party connected with News Corp’s bid for full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
“I had heard directly and indirectly that there had been veiled threats that my party would be done over in the News International press. I took those things seriously and I was very concerned,” Cable told the Leveson Inquiry this morning.
When asked about the source of the threats, Cable, who was initially in charge of adjudicating the bid, said he believed they came in conversations with News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel but could not be absolutely certain.
In his witness statement Cable said he received reports that several of his Lib Dem colleagues were approached by News Corp representatives “in a way I judged to be inappropriate”.
“This added a sense of being under siege from a well-organised operation,” he added. “Coming from a party that had hitherto been at best ignored by News International, this was a new and somewhat unsettling experience.”
Cable was removed from his role in judging News Corp’s £8 billion bid for BSkyB, launched in June 2010, after he told two undercover Telegraph reporters in December of the same year that he had “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch. His comments led to accusations he was biased against the media mogul.
Cable said he had “offloaded pent-up feelings” in language he would not normally use, and described the situation outside his constituency surgery at the time as a “near-riot”.
Cable wrote in his witness statement that his references to “war on Murdoch” were “making the point, no doubt rather hyperbolically, that l had no intention of being intimidated. Clearly, I should not have volunteered my unprompted opinion, even in a private, confidential conversation in a constituency surgery. I subsequently apologised.”
He also wrote that he was “concerned about the unhealthy political influence of some newspaper proprietors including the Murdochs”, but added this was “not a view about the particular circumstances of the BSkyB takeover.”
Cable outlined that there were plurality problems presented by at 100 per cent ownership of BSkyB, namely that the number outlets under different owners would have been reduced and the possibility of new owners replacing management who would have influenced the choice of editors.
News Corp’s bid for the takeover was dropped last summer following the phone hacking scandal.
The Inquiry continues this afternoon.
Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson