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
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
News
Tattoo enthusiast Cammy Stewart poses for a portrait during the Great British Tattoo Show
In picturesThe Great British Tattoo Show
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?