CULTURE secretary Jeremy Hunt took to the floor of the Commons to fight for his political life yesterday, pleading ignorance of the emails that show his department’s apparent closeness with News Corp.
Hunt said his special adviser Adam Smith had “unintentionally overstepped the mark” in his frequent emails, calls and texts with top News Corp staff during Hunt’s scrutiny of the firm’s bid for the rest of BSkyB. Smith resigned yesterday morning.
The tranche of emails, released to the Leveson inquiry on Tuesday, appear to show Hunt’s advisers giving information and advice to News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel on the progress of the firm’s bid with regulators.
Hunt argued: “I didn’t know the content, volume or tone of those communications.”
Labour MPs, however, pointed to the ministerial code, which gives ministers responsibility for their advisers’ conduct.
And while he tried to distance himself from his special adviser, Hunt was unable to prove to some frustrated MPs how much or little he actually knew.
When Tory MP Peter Bone asked Hunt how Michel came to have details of a speech before it was made to Parliament, Hunt responded: “I’m unable to come to the House today and say what the truth was.”
In answer to many MPs’ questions, he promised to give a “full record of events” to the Leveson inquiry, his appearance at which has been brought forward to late May.
He also repeatedly pointed out that he took independent advice from Ofcom and the Competition Commission before making any decision on News Corp’s bid for control of BSkyB.
Hunt instead rounded on Labour MPs, noting that the Murdoch family’s presence in the UK media is “something that bedevilled politics for many years” and that he was disappointed with the opposition for “jumping on the political bandwagon”.
David Cameron used his weekly Prime Minister’s Questions slot to give his “full support” to Hunt.
Meanwhile, it emerged that Hunt flew to New York to meet with News Corp executives in August 2009, before the Conservatives took power. The visit was declared on the MPs’ register of interests.
Hunt urged MPs not to jump on the bandwagon