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Updated: April 25, 2012 23:30 IST

Cameron government in crisis over ties with Murdoch

Hasan Suroor
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In this image from a video, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch appears at Lord Justice Brian Leveson's inquiry, in London, on Wednesday.
AP In this image from a video, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch appears at Lord Justice Brian Leveson's inquiry, in London, on Wednesday.

Rupert Murdoch's much-awaited appearance before the Leveson inquiry into media ethics was on Wednesday overshadowed by the political fallout from his son James's explosive testimony on Tuesday about his company's close relationship with Prime Minister David Cameron and his Ministers — triggering calls for an investigation into their conduct in dealing with the Murdochs' £8-billion controversial bid for BSkyB.

Mr. Cameron was heckled during the Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons as he tried to rebut accusations of “Tory sleaze” and “croynism” following Mr. James Murdoch's claim that he discussed the Sky bid with him during a private dinner and that the office of the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt passed crucial inside information about it to his company.

The Prime Minister was urged to explain his own relationship with the Murdochs, and to “show the door” to Mr. Hunt. Even as Mr. Hunt denied any wrongdoing, his special adviser, Adam Smith, resigned admitting that he “went too far” in his contacts with News Corp, the Murdochs' flagship company.

The resignation came after News Corp released a cache of e-mails revealing that Mr. Hunt's office regularly updated the company on the issue. One e-mail contained the exact words that Mr. Hunt was to use two days later in a Commons statement on the Sky bid.

Mr. Hunt, dissociating himself from the damaging e-mails, insisted that he had followed the “due process”. He “categorically” denied that there was a “back channel” through which confidential details were given to News Corp as a quid pro quo for the Murdoch newspapers' support to the Conservative Party at the last election.

At the inquiry, Mr. Rupert Murdoch admitted meeting Mr. Cameron for tea at Downing Street in May 2010, just days before he made the Sky bid public. He denied that the bid was deliberately timed for June 2010 in the hope that a Conservative government would be more supportive because of his newspapers' backing for the party in the elections.

During his nearly five-hour-long deposition, punctuated by long pauses and claims of memory lapse, the 81-year-old media tycoon repeatedly denied getting any favours from successive British Prime Ministers. The traffic, he said, was the other way round with politicians cultivating him.

“All politicians of all sides want to impress publishers. It is their game,” he said adding that he was irritated by the perception of his influence over politicians.

“I want to put it to bed once and for all, that that is a complete myth… that I used the influence of the Sun or the supposed political power to get favourable treatment,” he said.

Mr. Murdoch's bid to seize full control of Sky in which his company already has a 39-per-cent stake fell through in the wake of the News of the World hacking scandal.

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