Culture secretary tells Leveson conversation was legitimate despite advice not to get involved in News Corp’s BSkyB bid
Jeremy Hunt has told the Leveson inquiry it was “entirely appropriate” for him to have a mobile phone conversation with James Murdoch despite being given legal advice not to become involved in News Corporation’s £8bn bid for BSkyB.
The culture secretary said on Thursday morning during his Leveson inquiry appearance that he “just heard Mr Murdoch out, and basically heard what he had to say about what was on his mind at that time” during the phone conversation on 16 November 2010.
“I thought it was entirely appropriate to hear what a big player in my industry was saying about a particular situation. Indeed, I thought that was my duty to do so,” he added.
But the culture secretary said he would do things differently now because of the “massive number of conspiracy theories” that have abounded over his role in the News Corp bid.
“Having been through the BSkyB bid and the process that I’ve been through, I would take a different view about the presence of officials in conversations that a culture secretary has with media proprietors,” Hunt said. “I think actually going forward I would always want to have officials present and taking notes.”
A meeting between Hunt and Murdoch was cancelled the day before the phone call because his office had received legal advice it would be inappropriate.
Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked: “If a meeting is inappropriate … why is a telephone call appropriate?
Hunt said: “Well, I didn’t see the telephone call as a replacement for the meeting. My interpretation of the advice was that I should not involve myself in a quasi-judicial process that’s being run by another secretary of state [Vince Cable].”
Hunt said he was “frustrated” about the progress of the BSkyB bid. “I was worried about a bid in my sector that could potentially mean that thousands more jobs would be created, and the main protagonist was concerned about the process they were having to go through, so I may well have been worried.”
The culture secretary said he “wouldn’t have given [Murdoch] any reassurance about the media plurality decision that Vince Cable was taking because that … was not anything I could get involved with, and I would have made that clear to him.
“I probably gave him a sympathetic hearing, but I wouldn’t have said that I can get involved in that decision because I had taken and accepted the advice that I couldn’t.”
Earlier, Hunt said there was nothing unusual in the fact a briefing document prepared by News Corp lobbyist Frédéric Michel and forwarded to him by his then special adviser, Adam Smith, was sent to his personal email account.
“That is the only email I use. My department email gets looked after by my private office and if there’s anything they need to show me from that, they show me. But the only email account that I use is my personal one.”