Cameron and Hunt let off lightly with conflict of interest warning

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Former Culture Secretary criticised for relationship ‘too close with press’ over role in failed BSkyB deal

The Cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt was today criticised by Lord Justice Leveson for his role in the ill-fated takeover of BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, as part of an indictment of the overly-cosy relationship between politicians and the press.

The judge said the development of excessively close links between newspapers and politicians had undermined confidence in the political system by raising the suspicion in the public’s mind that power and influence were being traded behind the scenes at Westminster.

But beyond condemnation of the “disproportionate” amount time spent by politicians spent with newspaper editors and proprietors, Lord Justice Leveson did not place blame for the disintegration of trust in public life on the shoulders of individual ministers. He said, although Prime Minister David Cameron had – like other party leaders – gone to “great lengths” to woo Mr Murdoch’s News International empire, he believed there was no “deal”  to receive support from its titles in return for political or policy favours.

The judge said: “Over the last 30-35 years and probably much longer, the political parties... have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest. In part, this has simply been a  matter of spending a disproportionate amount of time, attention and resource on this relationship.”

All personal or private meetings between media executives and ministers must now be logged, he urged, and a public summary of all non-verbal contact, such as texts and emails, also published. The 358 pages of the report dedicated to the relationship between the press and those in power include a raft of other measures aimed at increasing transparency.

Lord Justice Leveson said the risk of the public perceiving bias and secret dealings between politicians and the press was encapsulated in numerous incidents, including the failed £8bn bid by the Murdoch empire for control of BSkyB.

Mr Hunt, the then Culture Secretary,  was criticised for failing to supervise his special adviser, Adam Smith, whose extensive contact with News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel during the takeover provided some of the most incendiary testimony of the Leveson Inquiry, by showing the Mur-doch empire was being given an inside track on the progress of its bid.

Through dozens of emails and texts exchanged between Mr Smith and Mr Michel, the inquiry was told confidential and market-sensitive information was passed from the office of Mr Hunt, who was in charge of the deciding on the bid’s progress by acting in a “quasi-judicial” role, to senior News Corp figures, including James Murdoch.

Mr Hunt insisted his previously expressed support for the BSkyB bid and links with the Murdochs, which included a number of meetings in New York in 2009 before launching the takeover, was set aside when he took over responsibility for it in 2010.

Nonetheless, Lord Justice Leveson found there had been a “serious hidden problem” in the back channel that emerged between Mr Smith and Mr Michel, leading the lobbyist to boast to James Murdoch that he had “absolutely illegal” information about the timetable for an announcement by Mr Hunt in January last year. Mr Murdoch, who said the “illegal” reference had been a joke, did not call a halt to, or question, the contacts between Mr Smith and Mr Michel – a decision the judge described as “regrettable”.

He said the nature and volume of the exchanges over many months between the special adviser and the lobbyist was such that, had the BSkyB bid gone through, the arrangement had the potential to derail the entire takeover. The risks posed by Mr Smith’s arrangement with Mr Michel should been “obvious from the outset” to officials and ministers, including Mr Hunt, Lord Justice Leveson said.

Criticising Mr Hunt for his failure to spot this conflict as well as the necessity of paying “meticulous attention” to every aspect of ministerial procedure, Lord Justice Leveson said: “I doubt the wisdom of appointing Mr Smith to this role. The cumulative risks were then compounded... by a lack of supervision by Mr Hunt.”

The judge said there was “no credible evidence” that Mr Hunt, who said he considered resigning over the handling of the BSkyB bid, showed any bias. However, Lord Justice Leveson added: “The voluminous exchanges between Mr Michel and Mr Smith, in the circumstances, give rise to a perception of bias. The fact that they were conducted informally, and off the departmental record, are an additional cause for concern.”

Leveson report: Politicians

The recommendations

1. Each major political party to publish a statement explaining how it intends to conduct relations with the press

2. Senior politicians to declare any long-term relationships with media proprietors, executives and journalists as well as quarterly reports of all meetings, including previously private “personal” meetings with all media executives.

3. Quarterly reports to include a “general estimate” of the frequency of letters, phone calls, texts and emails between politicians and senior media figures.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
Drinking - often heavily - is a running theme throughout HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
food + drink
News
Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine
people
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

Guru Careers: Print Project Manager

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Print Project Manager is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living