Murdoch Emails Bring Calls for Minister’s Resignation

April 24, 2012 Updated: April 30, 2012

Although James Murdoch gave over six hours of evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into Press Ethics on Tuesday, the real pressure is being brought to bear on U.K. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Murdoch answered stone-faced as barrister Robert Jay chipped away at over 160 pages of News Corps communications—perhaps two-thirds of which were to or from Hunt.

The majority of communications concerned the failed bid by News Corp. to buy all remaining shares in the global television company BSkyB. Murdoch was CEO of News Corp. at the time, a company owned by father Rupert Murdoch.

What emerged was the picture of an inappropriately close relationship between News Corp., which had much to gain from being allowed to buy the shares, and Hunt who was overseeing the application, and whose job in the transaction was tantamount to judge.

The bid for BSkyB was put in two months after the May 2010 general election, which resulted in the current coalition between the Conservatives and LibDems. Vince Cable, a LibDem, was business minister and in charge of overseeing the bid.

Cable refused to meet with Murdoch and was against News Corp. expanding its hold on media outlets.

Cable passed the bid to media regulator OfCom.

However, just before OfCom was to deliver its report in December 2010, Daily Telegraph undercover reporters secretly taped an interview with Cable, in which he said he “declared war” on Murdoch over the BSkyB affair, saying at one point, “I think we are going to win.”

For this and other rash remarks, over 50 civil servants with responsibility for telecommunications policy were moved from Cable’s business department to the Department of Culture Media and Sport headed by Hunt.

Hunt’s sympathetic view of Murdoch’s wishes was shown in email after email. It was thought to be quid pro quo for Murdoch’s paper The Sun backing the Conservatives in the election.

This assertion was avidly denied by James Murdoch. That would be “inappropriate,” he said, “I don’t do business that way.”

It was revealed that Hunt had been in communication with News Corp. while Cable had still been in charge of the bid.

This will cause friction within the coalition and put pressure on the prime minister who had given support to Hunt after the revelations.

Deputy opposition leader Harriet Harman and Evan Harris of the Hacked Off campaign and others have called for Hunt’s resignation.

Hunt’s position seems increasingly untenable since, should he still be in his post when Leveson concludes, he would be in charge of implementing the inquiry’s recommendations.

It also puts the smooth running of the Olympics at stake, as overseeing major aspects of the games also falls to his post.