British culture secretary urged to resign

April 24, 2012 at 6:52 PM
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LONDON, April 24 (UPI) -- A top British politician Tuesday called for Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to resign for allegedly being too cozy with the Murdoch media empire.

As the Leveson Inquiry churned on, the Murdoch family disclosed contacts between Hunt's office and News Corp. for several months, while Hunt was in a "quasi-judicial" role in deciding whether the company could take over satellite broadcaster BSkyB, The Daily Telegraph reported.

News Corp. released more than 170 pages of internal e-mails and text messages, detailing its government lobbying activities. Among them was a message Frederic Michel, head of public affairs for the company, sent to James Murdoch and other senior executives detailing what Hunt would say to Parliament the next day concerning the purchase BSkyB, noting it was "absolutely illegal" for him to obtain the information.

Hunt has maintained he acted independently and impartially but e-mails released Tuesday fueled allegations he was aiding the Murdoch family, the newspaper said.

"Jeremy Hunt should have been standing up for the interests of the British people," Labor leader Ed Miliband said in demanding Hunt's resignation. "In fact, it now turns out he was standing up for the interests of the Murdochs.

"He cannot stay in his post. And if he refuses to resign, the prime minister must show some leadership and fire him."

Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement saying he had "full confidence" in Hunt, who denied any wrongdoing.

"Now is not a time for knee jerk reactions," Hunt said. "We've heard one side of the story today but some of the evidence reported meetings and conversations that simply didn't happen.

"I am very confident that when I present my evidence the public will see that I conducted this process with scrupulous fairness."

Ex-News International Chairman James Murdoch told the panel investigating Britain's phone-hacking scandal he had no prior knowledge hacking was occurring.

The son of Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry he stands by earlier testimony that he never saw a 2010 e-mail revealing the practice went beyond a single reporter, the BBC reported.

At Tuesday's hearing, Murdoch was questioned about his relationships with British politicians and whether he had more influence because of the weight of the press at his disposal.

"I haven't spent that much time with politicians," Murdoch said. "I don't think there's any evidence of an advantage."

Murdoch labeled as a "crass calculation" a suggestion from the inquiry questioner that it would have been a "bad outcome" for News International had Labor won the 2010 election, the Telegraph reported.

Murdoch said he is "friendly" but not "close friends" with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

He said he had one discussion with Osborne about the company's bid to take over BSkyB.

Murdoch said the private conversation was no different from what he said to Osborne in public about the takeover bid that was later dropped due to the hacking scandal.

Employees at the now-defunct News of the World and other British tabloids published by News International are accused of engaging in phone hacking, police bribery and exercising improper influence in the pursuit of stories.

The Leveson Inquiry is exploring the culture, practices and ethics of the British press in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.

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