Memo: UK minister lobbied for Murdoch takeover

Associated Press Modified: May 24, 2012 at 1:45 pm •  Published: May 24, 2012
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LONDON (AP) — A British minister in the hot seat for his alleged close ties to Rupert Murdoch's media empire did lobby Prime Minister David Cameron to back the tycoon's bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB, according to a memo made public Thursday.

Media Secretary Jeremy Hunt, whose close links to Murdoch's News Corp. have cast a cloud over his career, said in a Nov. 19, 2010, letter to Cameron that Murdoch's son James was "pretty furious" about the obstacles being put in the way of the New York-based company's bid for the lucrative pay-TV provider.

Hunt said in the memo that James Murdoch hoped the multibillion-pound bid would shake up Britain's media industry the same way his father had done in the 1980s by revolutionizing newspaper production when he battled the printing unions.

"He wants to create the first multiplatform media operator," Hunt wrote. "If we block it our media sector will suffer for years."

Hunt's memo was written about a month before he was given responsibility for ruling on whether to refer Murdoch's bid to competition regulators — a vital quasi-judicial function that he had promised to carry out impartially.

The memo, whose existence was disclosed in testimony to a long-running U.K. inquiry into media ethics, showed the degree to which Hunt sympathized with the New York-based News Corp., which has since been plunged into scandal over phone hacking and other shady practices at its subsidiaries.

Critics say News Corp.'s influence over U.K. politicians was one of the reasons the company was able to get away with wrongdoing in Britain for so long. The inquiry — led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson — is sifting through the scandal's fallout to find out whether press barons like Murdoch got too close to the police and politicians meant to keep them in check.

Whether Hunt acted fairly has been called into question by a mass of emails and texts that suggest his office was bending over backward to help Murdoch — for example by slipping News Corp.'s top European lobbyist Frederic Michel intelligence on the progress of the potentially lucrative bid. The deal, if completed, would have increased News Corp.'s stake in BSkyB from 39.1 percent to 100 percent and reinforced the foundations of Murdoch's digital empire.

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