Leading article: Not enough to exonerate Mr Hunt over News Corp

Of the three charges, none was answered sufficiently well to let the minister off the hook

Share
Related Topics

Jeremy Hunt was fighting for his political life at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, and he was fighting hard. The Prime Minister thought it was enough, and subsequently ruled out any further investigation into the Culture Secretary's handling of News Corporation's bid for BSkyB. But no brandishing of independent advice, no elaboration of decisions that enraged James Murdoch, and no reflections on the basic courtesy of replying to text messages (even ones from "pushy" lobbyists), can negate the fact that the Culture Secretary's office had wholly inappropriate contact with News Corp. That impropriety was, and remains, Mr Hunt's responsibility as the Secretary of State.

In fact, of the three charges to be faced, none was answered sufficiently conclusively to let Mr Hunt off the hook. It was with regards to his impartiality that the Culture Secretary had most to say. Mr Hunt admitted that he was sympathetic to the arguments in favour of the Murdochs' BSkyB bid. Indeed, he could hardly not, given the wealth of evidence that his inclinations tilted as much in favour of the deal as those of his discredited quasi-judicial predecessor, Vince Cable, tended against it. But any personal views were put to one side with the assumption of the formal role, Mr Hunt claims.

Such disinterested professionalism is, of course, possible. But credulity is strained to breaking point by the volume and tone of the Culture Secretary's contact with News Corp, not least a previously unseen text message – congratulating James Murdoch on a European regulatory hurdle cleared – sent just hours before Mr Hunt was installed as a supposedly impartial arbiter.

Even were Mr Hunt to be taken at his word as regards his impartiality, therefore, there is a second matter that remains outstanding. Despite his refusal of requests for face-to-face meetings, Mr Hunt still exchanged any number of text messages with News Corp's head of public affairs, Fréd Michel. Substantive or not, such contact hardly constitutes the official channel required by the quasi-judicial process. And his special adviser, Adam Smith, was engaged in an almost daily back-and-forth with Mr Michel regarding the progress of the deal, none of which was minuted or monitored, as required.

Third, then, is the question of Mr Smith's brief. It is true that there was a valid role for him as point of contact for News Corp. But the job was far removed from that of the traditional special adviser, speaking for their minister. Yet Mr Smith was never formally apprised of the fact that, in his dealings with News Corp, his remit was very different. In the context of a proposed takeover that would change the shape of Britain's media landscape, such laxity is inexcusable. Even worse, Mr Hunt claims no knowledge of the "barrage" of emails and text messages Mr Smith received from Mr Michel, and apparently never thought to ask, despite the company's intense focus on the deal and its reputation for forcefully representing its interests.

It is not up to Lord Justice Leveson to rule on Mr Hunt's fitness for office. Indeed, it is deeply unsatisfactory that an inquiry into media ethics and behaviour should be forced to act as a proxy trial of ministerial competence out of a Prime Ministerial desire to dodge the proper parliamentary investigation. Barely more than an hour after Mr Hunt's evidence ended, Mr Cameron declared the matter dealt with and concluded. It absolutely is not. Under the Ministerial Code, the Secretary of State is responsible for the activities of his special advisers. Either Mr Smith was acting on his own initiative, in which it was an egregious failure of management, or he was doing exactly what was required of him, in which case it was a gross violation of quasi-judicial impartiality. Yesterday's hearing only made it clearer than ever: Mr Hunt must go.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Project Manager

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Developer - Java

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning digital publishing solution...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: NON-CONTENTIOUS (0-2 PQE) - A rare opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Financial Analyst

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Financial Analyst is required to join...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Benedict Cumberbatch race row: Calling black people 'coloured' removes part of their humanity

Yemisi Adegoke
 

Dippy the Diplodocus: The great exotic beast was the stuff of a childhood fantasy story

Charlie Cooper
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness