I can truthfully testify that trying to listen to the Leveson Inquiry while doing anything else is a recipe for doing both things poorly. The testimony and, more disappointingly, the questioning is soporific in the extreme. Mr Jay QC, counsel for the Inquiry, has mostly been given the benefit of the doubt – surely he’s just lulling witnesses before setting a sharp, steel trap? But no, he seems to just be lulling them.
When Adam Smith, the SPAD, (exactly – even the acronym makes them sound like types to be avoided), for Jeremy Hunt who had to quit because of his over-cosy relationship with News Corp, took the stand surely fireworks were in order. Part way through his testimony a small sparkler seems more like it.
As usual much more interesting (and by that I mean hard to credit and / or damaging), was the documentation released into the wild alongside his witness statements. In particular let us focus on what we might call the ‘For David’ memo from Jeremy.
This memo was written in November 2010, after the BSkyB bid was launched and while the Business Secretary Vince Cable was still handling the case and had just asked Ofcom whether it should be referred t to the Competition Commission. Jeremy opens by pointing out to David (that’s David Cameron, the Prime Minister….) that James Murdoch is very unhappy about this. David already knows this because, A. He’s not a moron and B. It is becoming clearer all the time that he had a very close relationship with senior News execs himself.
The rest of the memo (read it in full below) makes it clear Jeremy is pretty much the News cheerleader that he professed himself to be on his own website. And why not? He’s a Tory free marketer, News had switched sides to back his party at the election, and he’s not the minister responsible for making the independent, quasi-judicial decisions about the BSkyB bid.
Oh, but then he is! Having received this memo – which on any commonsense translation has a substext: “Whatever else you do, don’t for a moment think I’m the right person to conduct an independent process on the bid,” David puts Jeremy in charge.
This must be the worst appointment decision since oh, I don’t know, a Leader of the Opposition appointed a disgraced red top editor as his communications guru (against detailed and specific advice not to), and then kept him on when he entered Downing St despite an rising odour of trouble that anyone not raised in an hermetic bubble of naive privilege could smell many miles off.
I stick to my prediction this whole affair will see the end of Hunt and now I wouldn’t bet against it taking Cameron down too.
The ‘For David’ memo:
“James Murdoch is pretty furious at Vince’s referral to Ofcom. He doesn’t think he will get a fair hearing from Ofcom. I am privately concerned about this because News Corp are very litigious and we could end up in the wrong place in terms of media policy. Essentially what James Murdoch wants to do is to repeat what his father did with the move to Wapping and create the world’s first multiplatform media operator available from paper to web to TV to iPhone to iPad. Isn’t this what all media companies have to do ultimately? And if so we must be very careful that any attempt to block it is done on plurality grounds and not as a result of lobbying by competitors.
The UK has the chance to lead the way on this as we did in the 80s with the Wapping move but if we block it our media sector will suffer for years. In the end I am sure sensible controls can be put into any merger to ensure there is plurality but I think it would be totally wrong to cave into the Mark Thompson/Channel 4/Guardian line that this represents a substantial change of control given that we all know Sky is controlled by News Corp now anyway.
What next? Ofcom will issue their report saying whether it needs to go to the Competition Commission by 31 December. It would be totally wrong for the government to get involved in a competition issue which has to be decided at arm’s length. However I do think you, I, Vince and the DPM [deputy prime minister] should meet to discuss the policy issues that are thrown up as a result.”