David Cameron had a private meeting with Rupert Murdoch at a time when the media mogul was bidding to take 100 per cent control of Sky television, the Cabinet Office disclosed last night.
The meeting took place in July last year – 11 months before Mr Murdoch finally obtained the go-ahead to buy the 60 per cent of Sky that he did not own – an ambition he has since put on hold while his media empire is engulfed in the phone-hacking scandal.
It was included as an "addendum" to a list of the Prime Minister's meetings with outside organisations covering the second quarter of this year, which the Cabinet Office published on its website at around 6pm yesterday, when it was likely to attract minimal publicity.
There was no explanation offered as to why a meeting that took place 17 months ago has only just been made public, but it was apparently a mistake caused by information not being passed on through different parts of the civil service. Though the document does not say where the meeting took place, it is thought to have been in New York, during Mr Cameron's first prime ministerial visit to the USA.
At that time, media ownership was the responsibility of the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, who was likely to oppose Mr Murdoch's ambition to become the sole owner of Sky. Responsibility for the Sky was bid was taken out of Mr Cable's hands in December, after he was recorded boasting to undercover reporters posing as constituents that he had "declared war" on Mr Murdoch. Almost all other major media organisations opposed the Murdoch bid.
Responsibility was passed to the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who ruled in June that the bid could go ahead under certain conditions – though it collapsed in July as the Murdoch empire became engulfed in the hacking scandal.
The documents released by the Cabinet Office yesterday give the dates of other meetings between Mr Cameron and executives of Mr Murdoch's News Corporation or its UK subsidiaries between April and June 2011.
He met James Harding, editor of The Times, twice for "general discussion" in April and June 2011, and Dominic Mohan, editor of The Sun, once, in May, again for "general discussion". The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, also met Mr Harding in April for the same stated reason.
The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, Theresa May, were guests at the News International summer party and the Prime Minister was also at The Times CEO summit in June.
Mr Cameron also saw Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph Media Group, and Tony Gallagher, editor of the Daily Telegraph in April, along with Richard Desmond and Hugh Whittow, owner and editor of the Daily Express.
Mr Clegg met Harding in April 2011 for "general discussion", his only News International meeting in the period.
The Home Office revealed last night that Mrs May met Rebekah Brooks, then the chief executive of News International, in June 2011, to discuss "women in senior positions" – just a month before Brooks resigned when it was revealed that the News of the World had hacked the mobile phone of the missing teenager, Milly Dowler.
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