Jeremy Hunt, the British culture secretary, has admitted he was "sympathetic" to News Corporation's bid for subscription television provider BSkyB.
Fronting the Leveson inquiry for the first time yesterday, the embattled conservative politician answered questions about his links to the Murdoch media empire. Hunt was partially responsible for approving the BSkyB takeover before it was withdrawn in July last year.
It emerged during questioning that Hunt had personally congratulated James Murdoch after the BSkyB bid was approved by the European Commission in the Belgian capital. "Great and congrats on Brussels. Just Ofcom to go!" read the SMS, in reference to the British office of communication's pending approval, The Guardian reports.
Mr Hunt also confirmed that he had been in contact with then-Downing Street communications director Andy Coulson about the deal. After James Murdoch expressed his concern that controversial politician Vince Cable could hinder the BSkyB bid, Hunt emailed Coulson saying: "Could we chat about this. Am seriously worried Vince will do real damage to coalition with his comments."
Hunt had previously received legal advice not to lobby government regarding the deal, and that a meeting with James Murdoch would be inappropriate. Counsel to the inquiry Robert Jay QC asked Hunt: "If a meeting is inappropriate, why is a telephone call appropriate?" Hunt replied: "I didn't see the telephone call as a replacement for the meeting. My interpretation of the advice was that I should not involve myself in a quasi-judicial process that's being run by another secretary of state (Vince Cable)."
Jeremy Hunt's testimony at the inquiry yesterday is being viewed as a crucial moment for the culture minister, with several commentators calling for his resignation.
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