Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was today criticised by Labour MPs for meeting News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch on the fringes of the Olympic Games.
John Mann said it was “quite inappropriate” for Hunt to chat with the media mogul, while Jim Sheridan said he appeared to show “no contrition” over his handling of News Corp‘s bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
But a source close to the Culture Secretary said the meeting was no more than a chance encounter after the pair separately attended swimming events at the London 2012 Aquatics Centre last night
ITN captured footage of Murdoch waving to Hunt after he spotted the Government minister outside the swimming venue in east London.
The two men shook hands and smiled as they exchanged a few words before parting, but their conversation, lasting less than a minute, was not recorded.
An aide to Hunt told the Press Association: “They were both at the swimming and bumped into each other and shook hands and said hello. That’s all there was to it. I think they were talking about the swimming.”
Murdoch was at the Aquatics Centre as a guest of London Mayor Boris Johnson, while Hunt is a regular visitor to the Olympic venues in his capacity as Culture Secretary.
Mann told the Press Association: “Hunt just doesn’t seem to be able to help himself. He is repeatedly careless and this is another example of it.
“It’s quite inappropriate, after what has happened, that the two of them should be together at any stage. He should be avoiding Rupert Murdoch like the plague.”
And Sheridan, a member of the Commons Culture Committee which carried out an inquiry into phone-hacking at the News Corp-owned News of the World, said it appeared the relationship between Hunt and Murdoch was “as close as ever”.
“The relationship between the Conservative Party and the Murdoch empire still looks strong,” said Sheridan.
“And after everything that’s gone on, the very fact that Boris Johnson invited Murdoch to the Olympics is outrageous.
“What do Milly Dowler’s family make of that I wonder? There appears to be no contrition whatsoever for the mistakes.”
Murdoch has faced questioning on the hacking of mobile phones, including that of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler, by both the MPs’ committee and the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.
Seven former journalists at the News of the World, including ex-editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, have been charged with offences in relation to the phone-hacking inquiry.
Hunt came under intense pressure earlier this year when the Leveson Inquiry uncovered a cache of emails detailing contacts between his office and News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel during the abortive bid for BSkyB.
Critics also questioned his impartiality after it emerged he had written to David Cameron prior to being given quasi-judicial authority over the bid, arguing the case for the deal to go ahead. However, the Culture Secretary insisted he had handled the case impartially on the basis of independent advice.