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

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: Finance Team Leader

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for a Compa...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for a Compa...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an innovative a...

Recruitment Genius: Production Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Production Technician is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September  

Let’s face it, our free museums subsidise tourists

David Lister
Madonna about to take a tumble at the Brit Awards 2015  

Making fun of Madonna for daring to look good in middle age merely shows how envious we are

Janet Street-Porter
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower