Email shows Hunt was 'meddling on the side of Murdochs'

Labour has renewed calls for Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to quit over a potentially damning memo sent to Prime Minister David Cameron weeks before he was given quasi-judicial oversight of News Corp‘s BSkyB bid.

In it Hunt appeared to back News Corp’s BSkyB takeover bid and warned that Business Secretary Vince Cable’s decision to refer it to could leave the Government “on the wrong side of media policy”.

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman told BBC Breakfast this morning: ‘It is clear… that David Cameron gave responsibility to Jeremy Hunt for deciding on the BSkyB bid when he knew only too well that the Culture Secretary was actively supporting the bid.

“The Prime Minister should never have given him the job. It is clear that Jeremy Hunt was not the impartial arbiter he was required to be, and he should already have resigned.”

She said evidence of Hunt’s wrongdoing was “absolutely massive”, and that rather than judging the Murdochs’ bid, he was backing it.

She added: ‘There are two bits of evidence, actual straightforward evidence, that Jeremy Hunt was not impartial, he was meddling before he even took over the bid and was on the side of the Murdochs.”

‘The first was that he had to be warned off by the civil servants not to have any more meetings with Rupert Murdoch but he kept up the contact through his special adviser, and secondly he wrote a memo to the Prime Minister.”

A Number 10 spokesman said: “Jeremy Hunt’s note is entirely consistent with his public statements on the BSkyB bid prior to taking on the quasi-judicial role.

“It also makes clear that ‘it would be totally wrong for the Government to get involved in a competition issue which has to be decided at arm’s length’.

“The PM has made clear throughout that he recused himself from decisions relating to BSkyB and did not seek to influence the process in any way

Hunt’s ex-special adviser Adam Smith returns to give further evidence to the Leveson Inquiry today (Friday), followed by Jonathan Stephens, the permanent secretary at the Department of Culture Media and Sport.

Here is the memo sent from Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to David Cameron in November 2010 – weeks before Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of power to rule on the BSkyB deal and this was handed to hunt:

“James Murdoch is pretty furious at Vince’s referral to Ofcom. He doesn’t think he will get a fair hearing from Ofcom. I am privately concerned about this because News Corp are very litigious and we could end up in the wrong place in terms of media policy. Essentially what James Murdoch wants to do is to repeat what his father did with the move to Wapping and create the world’s first multiplatform media operator available from paper to web to TV to iPhone to iPad. Isn’t this what all media companies have to do ultimately? And if so we must be very careful that any attempt to block it is done on plurality grounds and not as a result of lobbying by competitors.

“The UK has the chance to lead the way on this as we did in the 80s with the Wapping move but if we block it our media sector will suffer for years. In the end I am sure sensible controls can be put into any merger to ensure there is plurality but I think it would be totally wrong to cave into the Mark Thompson/Channel 4/Guardian line that this represents a substantial change of control given that we all know Sky is controlled by News Corp now anyway.

“What next? Ofcom will issue their report saying whether it needs to go to the Competition Commission by 31 December. It would be totally wrong for the government to get involved in a competition issue which has to be decided at arm’s length. However I do think you, I, Vince and the DPM [deputy prime minister] should meet to discuss the policy issues that are thrown up as a result.”

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