Saturday 20 January 2018

Miliband ups pressure on Cameron over BSkyB

Joe Churcher in Kabul and Daniel Bentley in London

David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt face "huge" questions over their handling of News Corporation's BSkyB takeover in the wake of the latest evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, British Labour leader Ed Miliband said yesterday.

Ratcheting up the pressure on the prime minister and his beleaguered culture secretary, Mr Miliband said last week's disclosures provided "yet more" evidence that Mr Hunt should not have been given responsibility for the deal.

He cited, in particular, the publication of a memo in which Mr Hunt made private representations to Mr Cameron supporting News Corp's bid to take full control of BSkyB.

The document, sent just weeks before Mr Hunt was given quasi-judicial oversight of the bid, expressed concerns that referring the bid to Ofcom could leave the government "on the wrong side of media policy".

Mr Miliband, speaking in Afghanistan where he has been visiting British troops and holding talks with President Hamid Karzai, said: "From what I have seen from the material I have read on this, I think we have got yet more evidence that Jeremy Hunt wasn't the right person to be taking forward the decision about the BSkyB bid.

"He wrote a memo to the prime minister for the bid four weeks or so before taking charge of it and I think it really calls into question David Cameron's judgement about why he appointed him in the first place to take over this bid.

"Here is somebody who was an advocate within government for the bid, so there are huge questions for David Cameron to answer.

"And there are yet more questions for Jeremy Hunt to answer. I mean, why did he tell the House of Commons that he wasn't intervening in this issue when he wasn't responsible for it when, in fact, he was?

"There are just a whole series of mounting questions."

Mr Hunt is also facing embarrassment over disclosures about his personal dealings with News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel, whom he addressed as "daddy" and "mon ami" in dozens of jokey and intimate text messages.

In exchanges released by the Leveson Inquiry on Friday, Mr Michel responded with flattering comments about the culture secretary's "stamina" and "great" performances in TV interviews and in the House of Commons.

Mr Hunt also assured Mr Michel, then European director of public affairs for Rupert Murdoch's media empire, there was "nothing you won't like" in an upcoming speech.

On Friday, the Leveson Inquiry released 67 texts sent between the two men from June 21 2010 until July 3 2011, the period when News Corp was seeking to take over satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

The culture secretary is to appear before the Leveson Inquiry himself this Thursday when he will have the opportunity to defend himself from criticism that he got too close to News Corp.

Sunday Independent

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