UK minister will disclose emails on Murdoch bid

AP News
Posted: Apr 27, 2012 10:08 AM
UK minister will disclose emails on Murdoch bid

Pressing to save his job, Britain's culture secretary said Friday he will disclose all the texts and emails he sent to a special adviser who resigned amid questions over too-close contacts the government may have had with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Minister Jeremy Hunt said he would give the material to the media ethics inquiry led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson. News Corp. at the time was seeking Hunt's permission to take over a rival broadcaster in a lucrative deal that had raised questions about the concentration of media power in Britain.

Hunt has been under pressure since the Leveson inquiry disclosed 163 emails sent by News Corp. lobbyist Frederic Michel about his contacts with Hunt's office, mainly with special adviser Adam Smith. Smith resigned on Wednesday, taking responsibility for the correspondence.

Hunt was responsible for deciding whether News Corp. would be allowed to take full control of British Sky Broadcasting, in which it holds a 39 percent stake.

Hunt was supposed to be acting as an impartial judge, but Michel's e-mails portrayed the minister, or his office, as leaking sensitive information to Murdoch's representatives and supporting the News Corp. case.

Hunt approved the takeover proposal in March 2011 after News Corp. offered to spin off Sky News to alleviate concerns about concentration of news media ownership. The deal never went through however, derailed last summer by the public uproar that came when it emerged that Murdoch journalists had been illegally phone hacking figures in the news for years.

"I will be handing over all my private texts and emails to my special adviser to the Leveson Inquiry and I am confident that they will vindicate the position that I handled the BSkyB merger process with total integrity," Hunt told reporters.

In one email to James Murdoch _ then the chairman of BSkyB _ Michel reported that Hunt had asked for help to "find as many legal errors as we can" in a regulator's report that raised issues about the proposed takeover.

On Jan. 24, 2011, a day before Hunt announced his decision to Parliament, Michel sent an email to Rupert Murdoch. "Managed to get some infos on the plans for tomorrow (although absolutely illegal!) Press statement at 7.30am ... . Lots of legal issues around the statement so he has tried to get a version which helps us by qualifying the threats" identified by the regulator.

The takeover bid collapsed in July after The Guardian newspaper reported that Murdoch's News of the World tabloid had hacked into the phone of a murdered teenager at the time when police were searching for the girl.

Within a week, Cameron announced he was setting up the Leveson inquiry, Murdoch shut down the News of the World and laid off most of its staff, and News Corp. dropped its bid for BSkyB.

Rupert Murdoch and his son James have been testifying this week before the inquiry. The phone hacking scandal has rocked the British establishment, tainted senior politicians, prompted top police commanders and media executives to resign and affected large swathes of Murdoch's media empire.

On Friday, British prosecutors also announced they had decided not to charge a former reporter for suspected intimidation and harassment as part of their investigation into misconduct by British newspapers.

Alison Levitt of the Crown Prosecution Service said authorities won't charge former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck. The allegations related to a blog post in which Thurlbeck allegedly released the home address of a member of News International's Management Standards Committee.

Thurlbeck was one of 11 people for whom criminal cases are being considered. He is still facing other allegations.