A NEWS Corp lobbyist exchanged 191 phone calls, 158 emails and more than 1000 texts with the office of secretary of state Jeremy Hunt during the company’s bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB, the Leveson inquiry heard last night.
But News Corp head of communications Fred Michel said he could not assess whether Mr Hunt had been supportive of the bid.
He said he had not met Mr Hunt during that time but had exchanged several text messages with him. “Nothing inappropriate never [sic] took place,” he said.
One message he sent in March 2010 congratulated Mr Hunt on his performance in the House of Commons that day.
Mr Hunt sent the French-born Mr Michel a text reply saying, “Merci! Large drink tonight.”
Mr Hunt’s job is under threat following earlier revelations at the Leveson inquiry into the press that Mr Michel wrote 164 pages of emails to his boss, James Murdoch, that seem to suggest Mr Hunt was secretly on-side with the £8 billion Murdoch bid. In one email Mr Michel reported that Mr Hunt believed a new News Corp proposal over the bid would mean “it’s almost game over for the opposition” and that “he said we would get there in the end and he shared our objectives”.
But Mr Hunt also wanted to “build some political cover with the process”, the email said: “He wants us to take the heat with him in the next two weeks.”
Mr Hunt, who is also Media Minister, was meant to be impartially overseeing the takeover proposal.
Lawyer Robert Jay, QC, asked Mr Michel about an email he wrote in November 2010 telling Mr Murdoch that Mr Hunt had to pull out of a planned meeting to discuss the bid with Mr Murdoch because he had legal advice that the bid was a quasi-judicial matter, not a policy issue. The email said, “Jeremy is very frustrated about it, but the permanent secretary has now become involved.” Mr Michel told the inquiry there was “frustration on both sides” that the meeting could not take place. Mr Hunt’s former adviser Adam Smith was due to give evidence last night.First published in The Age 25 May 2012.