Prime Minister David Cameron insisted Monday there was no evidence that a Cabinet minister broke the rules in his dealings with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., rejecting demands by the opposition to call in Britain's standards watchdog.
Amid concern about the extent of contacts between Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's office and Murdoch's staff, Cameron said his minister had "acted fairly and impartially and in line with the advice" from civil servants.
"I have seen no evidence to suggest that, in handling this issue, the Secretary of State acted at any stage in a way that was contrary to the ministerial code," Cameron told lawmakers in the House of Commons.
Ties between Cameron's Conservative-led government and Murdoch's News Corp. are under scrutiny after testimony at Britain's inquiry into media ethics last week.
Questions have been raised over Hunt's handling of a decision on whether News Corp. should be allowed to take full control of British Sky Broadcasting, a satellite broadcaster in which Murdoch's company already holds a 39 percent stake. Hunt was supposed to be acting as an impartial judge to decide whether to approve the takeover or refer it to regulators.
Lord Justice Brian Leveson's media ethics inquiry _ set up by Cameron in response to Britain's tabloid phone hacking scandal _ last week published 163 emails sent by News Corp. lobbyist Frederic Michel on the takeover bid.
Michel's emails claimed that either Hunt or his office had leaked sensitive information to Murdoch's company and had indicated their support of the News Corp. case.
Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith resigned Wednesday, claiming that he had held some discussions without Hunt's authority.
Murdoch dropped the takeover bid for BSkyB in mid-2011, after an uproar in the phone hacking scandal that also prompted him to close his News of The World tabloid.
Cameron said Leveson's panel _ which last week took evidence from Murdoch and his son James and will question both Hunt and Cameron _ was the right forum to investigate any possible wrongdoing by the minister.
However, Leveson has raised doubts about whether his panel has the necessary authority to examine the issue fully.
The opposition Labour Party has demanded that Alex Allan, Britain's independent adviser on ministerial conduct, carry out a separate inquiry into Hunt's conduct.
Cameron said he would not order any investigation that would "duplicate, cut across or pre-empt" the work of Leveson's panel, but vowed to act if the ethics inquiry found any evidence of wrongdoing.
The hacking scandal has prompted three parallel police investigations, caused the resignations of top British police officials and media executives and led to dozens of arrests. Murdoch's media empire has faced over 100 lawsuits and spent millions in settlements to victims.