UK minister will disclose emails on Murdoch bid

Associated Press Modified: April 27, 2012 at 9:16 am •  Published: April 27, 2012
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LONDON (AP) — Pressing to save his job, Britain's culture secretary said Friday he will disclose all the texts and emails he sent to a special adviser who resigned amid questions over too-close contacts the government may have had with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Minister Jeremy Hunt said he would give the material to the media ethics inquiry led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson. News Corp. at the time was seeking Hunt's permission to take over a rival broadcaster in a lucrative deal that had raised questions about the concentration of media power in Britain.

Hunt has been under pressure since the Leveson inquiry disclosed 163 emails sent by News Corp. lobbyist Frederic Michel about his contacts with Hunt's office, mainly with special adviser Adam Smith. Smith resigned on Wednesday, taking responsibility for the correspondence.

Hunt was responsible for deciding whether News Corp. would be allowed to take full control of British Sky Broadcasting, in which it holds a 39 percent stake.

Hunt was supposed to be acting as an impartial judge, but Michel's e-mails portrayed the minister, or his office, as leaking sensitive information to Murdoch's representatives and supporting the News Corp. case.

Hunt approved the takeover proposal in March 2011 after News Corp. offered to spin off Sky News to alleviate concerns about concentration of news media ownership. The deal never went through however, derailed last summer by the public uproar that came when it emerged that Murdoch journalists had been illegally phone hacking figures in the news for years.

"I will be handing over all my private texts and emails to my special adviser to the Leveson Inquiry and I am confident that they will vindicate the position that I handled the BSkyB merger process with total integrity," Hunt told reporters.

In one email to James Murdoch — then the chairman of BSkyB — Michel reported that Hunt had asked for help to "find as many legal errors as we can" in a regulator's report that raised issues about the proposed takeover.