George Osborne met NI chiefs 16 times
Tuesday 26 July 2011
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has met executives of News Corporation companies on 16 occasions since the coalition Government took power, it was revealed today.
Details of the meetings were released as the Government published records of all ministerial contacts with senior media executives, in the wake of the controversy over phone-hacking at the News Corp-owned News of the World and Mr Murdoch's ditched bid to take over BSkyB.
It also emerged that News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch was the first senior media figure to meet Jeremy Hunt after he was appointed Culture Secretary in May last year - though this was before Mr Hunt was given responsibility for deciding on the BSkyB bid.
Mr Osborne met Rupert Murdoch twice, once for what was described as a "general discussion" shortly after taking office in May and the second time in December. He met former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and Mr Murdoch's son James - News Corp's chief executive in Europe - on five different occasions each.
The Chancellor has also had one-to-ones with editors of News International papers James Harding of The Times, John Witherow of the Sunday Times and Colin Myler of the News of the World.
The first senior media figure that Jeremy Hunt met on becoming Culture Secretary in May last year was Rupert Murdoch at an evening reception and dinner.
The following month he met James Murdoch for a general discussion.
Following his assumption of responsibility for the BSkyB takeover bid in December, he had two further meetings with James Murdoch in January this year to set out the process around the proposed merger.
Business Secretary Vince Cable, who was stripped of responsibility for ruling on whether the BSkyB bid should go ahead after boasting in December that he had "declared war on Rupert Murdoch", did not have as much contact as some of his colleagues with News Corp figures.
Mr Cable met Times editor James Harding in December, though it is unclear whether this was before or after he was stripped of his responsibilities for the BSkyB bid. He also attended a Sunday Times business lunch last April.
The publication of ministers' contacts with media figures was ordered earlier this month by Prime Minister David Cameron, who revealed then that he had himself met News Corp executives on 26 occasions since entering 10 Downing Street.
Today's release also revealed that Education Secretary Michael Gove has met News Corp executives 11 times since the general election in May 2010.
Mr Gove, a former journalist for The Times, met Rupert Murdoch seven times and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks eight times at events including lunches, dinners and social gatherings.
A spokesman for Mr Gove said: "Michael worked for the BBC and News International and his wife works for News International now.
"He's known Rupert Murdoch for over a decade. He did not discuss the BSkyB deal with the Murdochs and isn't at all embarrassed about his meetings, most of which have been about education which is his job."
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has met senior figures at News Corp five times since May last year, including one-to-one meetings with Mr Myler and Mr Witherow.
He also attended Rupert Murdoch's inaugural Margaret Thatcher lecture, as well as a News International reception at the Tory party autumn conference and a News Corp summer reception.
Labour's John Mann (Bassetlaw) said Mr Osborne needed to provide greater detail about his meetings with News International executives.
He said: "Whilst we now have a list of meetings that George Osborne has had with News International, it is not enough.
"We now need full access, including the publishing of the minutes from these meetings. In particular we need to know the details of his December 2010 meetings and exactly what was said about the BSkyB bid.
"This information is particularly important because George Osborne was the person who initiated the Andy Coulson appointment."
Defence Secretary Liam Fox met Ms Brooks three times - twice with James Murdoch and once with Rupert Murdoch and Sunday Times editor John Witherow.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has had four meetings with Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre since taking office.
He has also met the BBC twice and ITN, but the only News International executive he has met is the Sun editor Dominic Mohan.
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has also met Mr Mohan, as well as Ms Brooks and Mr Harding.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith did not meet any newspaper executives between January and March, only having lunch with Tim Montgomerie, the editor of Conservativehome.com.
But Employment Minister Chris Grayling did have lunch with executives from the Sun and Independent, while Disability Minister Maria Miller had lunch with the Daily Mail.
Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud had lunch with the Independent and the Sunday Times.
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