While the Leveson Inquiry singularly failed to hold Rupert Murdoch to account – why are these government inquiries so useless at cutting to the truth? – its fall out continues to poison the water in many wells.
The latest individual to be dragged into the stinky stuff is Jeremy Hunt, the DCMS Secretary of State who oversaw the News Corp bid for BSkyB. While no heavy hitter politically, Hunt was regarded as nice, bright and a safe pair of hands. He is still the first two but the last epithet now seems a joke.
To be fair, Hunt unexpectedly inherited the deal when his coalition colleague, the pompous Business Secretary Vince Cable, was entrapped promising to ‘fix’ Murdoch. At the time there was some fuss that a man who wrote on his own website ‘like all good Conservatives I am a cheerleader for News International’ was put in charge (it’s a clue isn’t it?). But, on the face of it, Hunt adopted the pious, innocent school boy demeanour that comes easily to him and took his ‘quasi-judicial’ responsibility seriously.
His defence now is that he went along with whatever Ofcom – an organisation News openly regards as ‘the enemy’ – recommended. To do anything else would have been political suicide. But at the same time he eagerly cooperated in cooking up the UILs (undertakings in lieu) about Sky News that looked like swinging the deal.
The Undertakings were a nonsense; like the NoW, Sky News would be sacrificed in a heartbeat to make the deal go through and the idea that making it independent solved any plurality issues was laughable. Even more laughable was the claims of the anti-dealers (the BBC, the Mail, Telegraph and Guardian), that plurality was their main concern; they were really scared News and Sky combined would be an even more effective competitor in their markets.
Once the UILs were in place News and their friends at DCMS were sure the deal was ‘in the bag’ as the special advisor helpfully emailed to the News public affairs man. Ofcom wasn’t copied in.
That Spad (yes, that’s what they call Special Advisors) was sacrificed – for going beyond his brief – and Hunt is saying he didn’t know, he wasn’t told, what his hand-picked man was doing. Remind you of anything? How about James Murdoch and the ‘for Neville’ email? In the same way Murdoch’s executives said ‘yes you were told,’ the DCMS chief civil servant has now been extremely cagey in front of a Commons Committee, refusing to confirm Hunt’s version of events.
Murdoch junior had to resign, so will Hunt.