Hunt: News of the World closure forced me to re-evaluate BSkyB bid

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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Tessa Jowell says family "destroyed" by press

The former secretary for culture media and sport told the Leveson Inquiry today that her family had “been destroyed” by intense media harassment.

Tessa Jowell, culture secretary from 2001 to 2007, became emotional as she described the “total” invasion of privacy she and her family had suffered.

Detailing what she called “obsessive curiosity” about her family and private life, Jowell said: “In the months to years after I’d find people sitting outside my house with cameras.”

“Only in the last 18 months do I find myself not looking in cars to see if there is somebody waiting,” she added.

In May 2006 she was told by Operation Caryatid, the original phone hacking investigation, that her voicemail had been intercepted 28 times, and subsequently discovered the activity was more extensive. In December 2011 Jowell settled a civil case for breach of privacy with News International.

“There is no evidence yet shown to me that the hacking of my phone was undertaken for commercial motives, but rather in pursuance of an obsessive interest in my troubled family circumstances at that time,” Jowell wrote in her witness statement.

She added that she was “deeply shocked” when she read Metropolitan police’s DCS Keith Surtees’s evidence, in which he said Jowell had declined to sign a statement to be used in the prosecutions of former News of the World royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire when she was first informed of phone hacking in August 2006.

“It is untrue,” she told the Inquiry. “Had I been asked at that time to provide a witness statement I would have.”

She said she “sought clarification” from the police over how she could contribute but was assured there was nothing further to do, writing in her witness statement that her “offers of further help were declined”.

She also said she did not approach the News of the World over the matter because she believed the perpetrators had been imprisoned, and did not complain to the Press Complaints Commission about the press intrusion she suffered.

During her evidence, Jowell and Lord Justice Leveson collided over whether or not the Press Complaints Commission was in fact a regulator. “Regulatory may be the wrong term,” Jowell said, noting that the Commission oversaw media conduct and provided redress for those who felt they had been wronged by the press.

Asked if the DCMS should have taken a more hands-on role in media monitoring, Jowell said such manoeuvres would have “been seen as a step to undermine self-regulation”.

“There’s no halfway house in this,” she said. “Either the media is regulated on statutory basis or it’s self-regulated.”

The Inquiry continues this afternoon with evidence from Lord Mandelson.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson