Policy thinking on internet piracy, public service broadcasting and spectrum unlikely to be published until the autumn
The planned publication of a communications green paper has been put on hold until after Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, has given evidence to the Leveson inquiry and dealt with accusations that he favoured News Corporation in its negotiations to buy all of BSkyB.
Those close to Hunt’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport say the communications green paper, which will set out the government’s initial policy thinking in areas as diverse as internet piracy, public service broadcasting and spectrum allocation, has largely been written but is now unlikely to be published until autumn at the earliest.
Hunt and his deputy, Ed Vaizey, had hoped to publish the document in the spring but Hunt’s attention has been concentrated on the need to give a full account to Lord Justice Leveson of his relationship with Rupert Murdoch’s company and see off Labour calls for him to resign.
One source said Hunt and the DCMS were distracted by the Murdoch controversy and it would be impossible for the document to be published until September at the earliest, assuming the culture secretary gives a successful performance before the judge.
There are also suggestions that the green paper could be shelved completely, with ministers instead moving to publish a white paper that by then would incorporate any relevant recommendations arising from the Leveson inquiry about the future of press regulation.
Leveson is due to report in October, and if his document appears before the green paper, it may have to be redrafted to include the government’s initial response to his findings.
If Hunt were to be replaced, a new culture secretary would want to review the document before agreeing to release it. The culture secretary has been under fire after 163 pages of emails written by News Corp lobbyist Frédéric Michel were released by the company to the Leveson inquiry.
Those emails, written over several months, appeared to show that Hunt’s office was passing information about the minister’s BSkyB bid approval process to the company during 2010 and 2011. Michel repeatedly described information he had obtained to his boss, James Murdoch, as emerging from Hunt himself.
The culture secretary denied there was an inappropriate relationship between himself and News Corp. But his special adviser Adam Smith did resign when it emerged that the bulk of Michel’s contact was with Smith rather than Hunt directly.
Hunt said that the “volume and tone” of the Smith/Michel communication could not be justified, but insisted that he oversaw the Sky bid correctly in a “quasi-judicial” manner.
Ministers are still officially insisting that the green paper will emerge in the spring. But the joke understood to be circulating in at the DCMS is that spring in Whitehall can run from anywhere from February to November.
The green paper marks the start of a legislative process that will culminate in a communications bill scheduled for the 2014/15 session of parliament.
Meanwhile Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, told a meeting of the campaign group Hacked Off that there should be the “equivalent of the knife amnesty” for newspapers and politicians before regulatory reforms are introduced for the press. She said both sides needed to stop attacking each other and start with a clean slate once the Leveson inquiry made its recommendations.
“At the end of the day what I hope is that we have is no victors and no vanquished here,” she said.