Ian Burrell: These texts raise real doubts about Jeremy Hunt's even-handedness

 

For those who had already made up their mind that Jeremy Hunt had to go, the newly-released texts from the Culture Secretary were mere confirmation of his role as a cheerleader for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

"Just Ofcom to go", he messaged James Murdoch as News Corp’s BSkyB bid cleared the European regulatory hurdle. "Seriously worried we are going to screw this up", he warned the Chancellor George Osborne when Business Secretary Vince Cable was revealed to be hostile to the deal.

Equally, Hunt’s supporters took the view that his Leveson evidence had offered nothing to contradict his assertion that he had done nothing wrong.

David Elstein, former chief executive of Channel 5 and to the right-of-centre politically, argued that News Corp’s public affairs strategy had been “wrong from start to finish” and that Hunt’s department had given it nothing of value.

“They thought they could apply their usual pressure and get some result and they were completely wrong.”

But was the Culture Secretary’s excruciating “daddy” communication with News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel really a fobbing off of an annoyingly persistent public affairs man?

Hunt admitted today he was aware that his adviser Adam Smith was in constant contact with News Corp. So why didn’t he rein in the relationship? That only happened in April when the level of intimacy was revealed and Hunt promptly told his junior “Everyone here thinks you need to go.”

Hunt may say he followed due process but there are real doubts about his even-handedness. While News Corp had almost constant access to his office, opponents of the Sky deal had the door shut in their faces.

Three times their lawyers Slaughter & May wrote to Hunt asking to discuss the weaknesses of the undertakings given by News Corp to ensure its bid was approved.

Each time the Culture Secretary ruled such contact inappropriate. And when a meeting finally took place on 24 March last year, he had already accepted News Corp’s proposal to spin off Sky News.

As someone close to the bid said last night: “There was an enormous level of direct contact between a group of people who seemed to think they were all on the same side.” 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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 General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'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
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk