Culture secretary exchanged text messages with News Corp executive while in quasi-judicial role, Leveson inquiry hears
Jeremy Hunt was in direct text contact with James Murdoch while he had quasi-judicial responsibility for News Corporation’s BSkyB takeover bid, the Leveson inquiry has heard.
On 3 March 2011, when the culture secretary publicly announced he was “minded” to approve News Corp’s takeover of BSkyB at the price of spinning off Sky News, Murdoch dropped him a text message at 6.33pm to say: “Big few days. Well played JRM”. Two minutes later, Hunt replied: “Thanks think we got right solution!”
Clarifying this text exchange at the Leveson inquiry on Thursday afternoon, Hunt said he saw Murdoch’s text as “something of an olive branch” because their two previous contacts about the Sky bid – a minuted meeting of 20 January and a letter sent on 15 February “had been very difficult”.
On 4 March 2011 Hunt texted Murdoch to say he had “Just been with the Team GB cycling team in Manchester who are most impressed with the personal interest you show in their performance!”
The News Corp executive, who is a cycling enthusiast, did not reply. Sky, of which Murdoch was chairman at the time, sponsors the Team GB cycling team.
At the end of that month, Hunt said he had heard on the Today programme that Murdoch would be relocating from London to New York after being appointed News Corp deputy chief operating officer. Texting on 31 March at 8.59am, Hunt said: “Many congratulations on the promotion although I am sure u will really miss Ofcom in NY! Jeremy”.
Almost immediately Murdoch replied: “Thanks Jeremy – sadly I fear they won’t see the back of me that easily! Hopefully we can move our other business forward soon so we can catch up properly. Best.” “Our other business” was a reference to News Corp’s Sky bid.
When asked by Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, whether he thought that such contact with Murdoch was appropriate, Hunt said he was being courteous and the messages had “absolutely no impact” on his decision over the Sky bid.
But he admitted that with the benefit of hindsight, the private communication was wrong. “I think probably now I wouldn’t take the same view, and I would just avoid all text messages,” Hunt said.