Hints of Collusion Between News Corp. and British Minister
The long-running tabloid newspaper scandal that has shaken Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire appeared on Tuesday to have reached into the heart of Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, with evidence at a judicial inquiry suggesting that a senior cabinet minister, or at least an aide claiming to speak for him, worked covertly to help win approval for a $12-billion takeover of the BSkyB network, a deal that would have crowned Mr. Murdoch’s 60-year media career.
The disclosures pointing to a hand-in-glove collaboration between Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation and Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt came in a sheaf of e-mails that the inquiry subpoenaed from a Murdoch lobbyist. The lobbyist was pushing for government approval of a News Corporation takeover of the 59 percent stake that that it did not already own in BSkyB, Britain’s leading satellite TV network, a generator of billion-dollar annual profits, and, increasingly, a serious competitor to the BBC.
During the period covered by the e-mails, Mr. Hunt was assigned by Mr. Cameron to take over quasi-judicial powers to approve the takeover. The deal, though, was vehemently opposed by many competing media organizations in Britain and by many others who argued that Mr. Murdoch, with control of publications that had 40 percent of Britain’s total newspaper circulation, already had a degree of influence and power, particularly over politicians, that was unhealthy for Britain, its political system and its market economy.
The e-mails tracked an intense back-and-forth between Frédéric Michel, News Corporation’s chief lobbyist in Britain, and Adam Smith, a political aide in Mr. Hunt’s office. Mr. Smith’s e-mails depict Mr. Hunt as an avid supporter of the BSkyB takeover and ready, in effect, to manipulate the approval process in the Murdochs’ favor, in part by giving Mr. Michel — and through him, James Murdoch — advance notice of government moves affecting the bid.