Jeremy Hunt quizzed over Murdoch ties

British minister fights for job at Leveson inquisition

GMT 13:13 2012 Thursday ,31 May

Arab Today, arab today British minister fights for job at Leveson inquisition

British Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt
London - Agencies

British Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt British minister Jeremy Hunt is to be quizzed over his controversial handling of News Corp's bid for BSkyB in a career-defining appearance before the Leveson inquiry into press standards. The culture minister was accused of being Rupert Murdoch's "cheerleader" after messages he sent to News Corporation while he was considering the company's bid for the pay-TV giant were revealed in an earlier hearing.
The bid was abandoned in July 2011 amid the phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch's News of the World tabloid, but Hunt has since faced claims he was too close to the firm when it was his job to decide if the bid should go ahead.
Messages disclosed by the inquiry last month revealed that Hunt's office had passed information to Murdoch's empire, leading to the resignation of special adviser Adam Smith.
The inquiry has also uncovered dozens of light-hearted text messages between Hunt and News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel.
Conservative lawmaker Hunt asked for an earlier hearing when the email cache emerged but his request was denied.
He now has the opportunity to present his case and potentially save his job, but can expect a fierce inquisition from lawyer Robert Jay.
The lead counsel for the inquiry is expected to ask the minister if he was right to accept the quasi-judicial role after previously revealing his support for the deal and also about his knowledge of Smith's relationship with Michel.
The coalition government asked Hunt to judge whether the bid would threaten media plurality after business secretary Vince Cable was stripped of the role.
The Liberal Democrat minister told two undercover reporters from The Daily Telegraph he would attempt to block Murdoch's bid to buy the 61 percent of BSkyB which he did not already own by referring it to regulator Ofcom.
Appearing before the inquiry on Wednesday, Cable claimed there had been "veiled threats" that his party would be "done over" in the Murdoch press if he blocked the deal.
The bid was fiercely opposed by other media groups, which feared it would give the Murdochs too much influence over the British media.
Prime minister David Cameron has rejected calls to sack Hunt over his department's News Corp links and said he should have a chance to explain himself on Thursday.
The minister earlier told parliament he handled the bid for the highly profitable broadcaster in a way that was "completely fair, impartial and above board".
Hunt, 45, has been Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport since the Conservative-led coalition took power in 2010 and was once viewed as a possible successor to Cameron.
The Leveson inquiry was set up by Cameron after the hacking scandal exploded last July with the revelation that the News of the World had accessed the voicemail of a missing teenager who was later found murdered.
The scandal reverberated across the British establishment, claiming the jobs of two senior policemen who had ties to the News of the World and sparking the resignation of Cameron's media adviser, a former editor of the tabloid.
More than 40 people have been arrested in a police investigation into phone hacking and a linked probe into inappropriate payments to public officials.

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