31 May 2012

LIVE BLOG: Jeremy Hunt gives evidence at the Leveson inquiry

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt gives evidence at the Leveson inquiry into media standards. Add your voice to the live blog.

• Hunt sent text to James Murdoch: “Great on Brussels, just Ofcom to go…”
• Hunt: I set aside Murdoch sympathies after gaining role from Cable
• Hunt: I do now understand more about quasi-judicial positions

Inquiry ends for the week and will reconvene on 11 June.

16.57 I think we should see if we can find a regulatory structure for the industry.

16.42 Hunt suggests why not give similar decisions on takeovers to independent regulators?

16.38 JH: I do believe I was able to put aside my opinions on the policy side of the bid. So I do feel in this case that the bid was conducted completely fairly.

16.37 JH: I did think about my own position but I had conducted the process scrupulously fairly so I didn’t think I should go.

16.36 I personally thought Adam Smith was decent and honourable but the pressure for him to go was so great. Mr Hunt says he doesn’t include himself in the quote, “everyone thinks you should go”.

16.34 Jeremy Hunt: As the storm continued, Adam Smith offered to resign. I very much hoped that it wouldn’t come to that. I think we came to the conclusion with very heavy hearts that we were going to have to accept his offer to resign.

16.31 Hunt: We certainly wouldn’t have discussed the deal in cabinet. The concerns that were generally being expressed by people were over phone hacking rather than the BSkyB deal.

16.25 It’s alleged that Jeremy Hunt thought the debates conducted by John Prescott and anti-hacking campaigner Tom Watson MP were “idiotic”. Would you have expected your special adviser to have shared that sort of comment? asks LJ Leveson.

16.15 On 3rd March the consultation on the BSkyB bid finished and we had a lot (40,000) of responses to wade through and quite important stuff came out of that consultation says JH. He says the organisation Avaaz was responsible for many of these responses.

15.54 JH suggests that the reason that Fred Michel may have been able to “suck” Adam Smith into using inappropriate language is because there was a previous relationship between the two and admits it may be something they can learn from.

15.51 Lord Leveson asks if Adam Smith would have met Fred Michel in opposition. It is likely says JH.

15.48 Jeremy Hunt on the language Adam Smith used to News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel: “I’m not sure that Adam did ever misrepresent my private views. If some of the things he’s alleged to have said were said then he did misrepresent my views.”

15.47 Hunt on Adam Smith: “I think the barrage he was subject to pushed him into language which was inappropriate”

15.45 Hunt: “I wish we had spelled out to Adam Smith about using inappropriate language and I wish he had told us about the pressure he was under.”

15.27 The inquiry is taking a short break.

15.19 Lord Justice Leveson clarifies that in email, ‘JH’ does not necessarily mean Jeremy Hunt

15.12 Mr Hunt is asked whether he ever used the phrase that “it’s almost over for the opposition” which was in in Mr Michel’s emails. Mr Hunt says he did not.

15.05 Mr Hunt says he “feels sorry” that his adviser Adam Smith had to deal with enquiries from Frederic Michel early on a Sunday morning.

14.54 Mr Hunt admits he sent a “slightly tongue in cheek” (Robert Jay’s phrase) message to James Murdoch following the news in February that Mr Murdoch was stepping down from News International and relocating to the US. In his message, Mr Hunt joked that Murdoch would not miss Ofcom in New York.

14.48 Mr Hunt is asked about a planned “Andy drink” which was called off. The “Andy” in question is Andy Coulson. Robert Jay asks why Mr Hunt needed an adviser to tell him this was not a good idea…

14.43 It is revealed that Mr Hunt texted to Smith “About bloody time!” when Rebekah Brooks resigned. Mr Hunt says it was “nothing personal” but that he thought it correct that she stepped down as chief executive of News International in 2011 because she would not have been able to lead an investigation into alleged wrongdoing at the News of the World during the time she was editor.

Read more: Hunt’s ‘great news’ text to James Murdoch

14.38 Mr Hunt describes his former special adviser (Spad) Adam Smith as “the most decent, straight, honourable person” but says “even he couldn’t maintain impartiality due to the volume of contact”.

14.33 Hunt: “Flattery is a weapon that Mr Michel tries to deploy quite frequently”. He adds that he got used to this flattery and effectively learned to ignore it.

14.30 Mr Hunt says Frederic Michel’s text communications in December 2010 were “actually a little bit cheeky”. They followed Mr Hunt’s more tense communications with James Murdoch. Michel suggested a meeting with Hunt’s family, which the culture secretary put off until “things are resolved”.

Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon gives his analysis of Jeremy Hunt’s appearance before the inquiry.

14.20 Mr Hunt admits there was “political concern” that the government would lose a vote by MPs in July 2011 about the BSkyB bid.

14.00 Evidence resumes. There is lots of debate about documents. Lord Leveson says he wants to publish Hunt’s evidence online today.

12.57 Leveson breaks off to resume at 2pm.

12.55 We had 40,000 objections to the News Corp UILs which Ofcom said had satisfied it
and that pretty much reflected the mood of the country, says Mr Hunt.

Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon writes from the inquiry: “Looking around here at Leveson, I estimate 17 paid lawyers sitting in various sections of Court 72. I see that Lord Justice Leveson has an instant messenger link up to Jay’s screen which you can see him tap “break” reminders into and no doubt other messages occasionally too.”

12.49 News Corp is a very determined company and they’re always on at people to do things quickly says Jeremy Hunt.
Robert Jay: Didn’t you get the impression that what Mr Michel was trying to do was “pile on the pressure”?
Jeremy Hunt: No.

12.41 When news of News Corp’s UILs was leaked, solicitors Slaughter & May sent an email to Jeremy Hunt stressing that any changes would have to be structural and not behavioural and that they had to be financially sustainable (seems to refer to News Corp’s pledge to remove Sky News from its bid).

12.31 Robert Jay reads out emails between Jeremy Hunt and Hunt’s adviser which Jay suggests is an example of politicians feeding journalists stories.

12.24 Lord Justice Leveson explains Undertakings In Lieu: If you refer a bid to the competition commission there is a process. A UIL is when the company says to the secretary of state that it will make undertakings to address concerns the minister has about the bid.

12.23 Robert Jay now going to look at emails between the main players in the News Corp bid.

12.18 Hunt: When we heard that News International had revealed phone hacking had gone further than was previously thought, we sought advice on whether this would impinge on the issue of plurality. What we found was that it could if there was evidence that it would affect peoples’ trust of the organisation.

ACRONYM BUSTER: UIL = undertakings in lieu

12.07 Hunt: James Murdoch was concerned that a media rival would come and buy remaining shares in News Corp meaning he would lose control of the company.

12.03 Jeremy Hunt told Rupert Murdoch he was going to seek the advice of two regulators about News Corp’s bid. Mr Murdoch was unhappy with this because he viewed Ofcom as hostile to News Corp.

12.03 Hunt:News Corp offered to remove Sky News from their bid.

11.49 Jeremy Hunt: I set aside my private view while I was making a decision on the News Corp bid.

11.46 I think that when you look at analysis it looks like Mr Michel was trying to contact Mr Smith five terms per working day which is an extraordinary amount of contact.

11.44 Hunt admits that Fred Michel’s texts to him showed a “degree of pushiness”

11.42 I was determined that the process was fair and transparent and especially to be fair to them.

11.40 Adam Smith’s role was to be an official point of contact. Someone whom News Corp could approach with questions about process and Adam Smith was deemed an appropriate person for that role.

11.30 This morning’s hearing takes a short break.

11.15 Mr Hunt says his quasi-judicial role meant “he had to be fair to both sides” but this did not mean having the same number of meetings with News Corp representatives and individuals who opposed the bid.

11.10 Mr Hunt disagrees that his appointment to make a decision on the BSkyB bid was made “hastily”. Mr Hunt adds that any delay might have imperilled the bid.

11.05 Mr Hunt is asked whether if Vince Cable was stripped of responsibility for bias in one direction, wasn’t he showing bias in the other direction? Mr Hunt says “the moment I was given responsibility… I set aside all my sympathies [for Murdoch bid]”.

11.04 Hunt says he would not have sent such a text message once he had gained responsibility for the bid from Vince Cable. Hunt also receives he received a message from Andy Coulson saying that he was “seriously worried” about Vince Cable’s comments.

Read more: Vince Cable – I have declared war on Murdoch (Dec 2010)

10.52 Mr Hunt is asked about his text message exchanges with James Murdoch and the Vince Cable “furore”. At one point Mr Hunt sent a message to Mr Murdoch: “Great on Brussels, just Ofcom to go..” Mr Hunt is quizzed about this being a “somewhat positive view” of News Corp getting European approval on the BSkyB bid. Mr Hunt says “yes”.

10.51 The inquiry hears Frederic Michel and Adam Smith (Mr Hunt’s former special adviser) met at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in the special advisers’ room on 6 December 2010.

10.47 Hunt: I do now understand more about quasi-judicial positions… it’s pretty much engraved on my brain.

10:40 Mr Hunt says he “just heard out” James Murdoch when they spoke on the phone. If Mr Murdoch wanted a meeting we would have said we could not intervene, Mr Hunt tells the inquiry.

10.25 Asked about the BSkyB bid, Mr Hunt says that he did not believe he couldn’t speak to industry figures about the bid.

10.20 Mr Hunt is asked about the emails exchanged between his office and Frederic Michel, Murdoch’s “fixer”. Mr Hunt says he only used a personal email account and says he never socialised with Michel, whom he first met in 2010 at the Conservative conference. He says he got to know Mr Michel well because they both had children in the same hospital at the same time.

10.06 Mr Hunt is asked about his relationship with James Murdoch. He says he “disagrees with his general thrust on the BBC… the suggestion it’s an arm of the state”.

10.00 Jeremy Hunt begins giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry. Hunt has been accused of being Rupert Murdoch‘s “cheerleader” after messages he sent to News Corp while he was considering the company’s bid for the pay-TV giant were revealed in an earlier hearing.

Jeremy Hunt at Leveson – add your voice

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt gives evidence to the Leveson inquiry into media standards, quizzed in particular on his closeness to the Murdochs while a decision was being made over News Corp’s BSkyB bid. Add your voice in the window above or on Twitter @Channel4News.