Rising politician replaces Hunt

LONDON — Maria Miller has been appointed as the U.K.’s new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

She replaces the controversial Jeremy Hunt, best known for axing the UK Film Council in 2010, and for his close ties to the Murdoch empire, which almost cost him his job earlier this year.

Hunt has been surprisingly promoted to Health Secretary, in the first major cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron’s own links to News Corp., and particularly his friendship with the former Sun editor and News Intl. topper Rebekah Brooks, also came under close scrutiny during evidence submitted to the Leveson inquiry into press ethics.

Miller was previously minister for disabled people. Her promotion to culture secretary lands her with a wide-ranging brief, including such hot potatoes as the Leveson report on the British press, which is due for publication soon, and the launch of a new generation of local TV stations, for which Hunt was a strong advocate.

Her department also has responsibility for the U.K. film industry. The British Film Institute, which was handed the role of strategic leadership and lottery funding after the abolition of the UKFC, will finally unveil its Future Plan for the next five years in October.

Hunt was little loved in film and TV circles. His decision to ax the UKFC was widely seen as a headline-grabbing move designed to promote his own political career, rather than a considered strategic move. He also drove through the proposal to launch local TV stations against strong advice from many experienced broadcasting execs. In both cases, however, he received key support from BFI chairman and former BBC topper Greg Dyke.

There was controversy when Hunt was handed the legal responsibility for scrutinizing News Corp.’s takeover bid for satcaster BSkyB, after he had previously lobbied in favor of the deal. News Corp. eventually dropped the bid, because of public outrage at phone hacking by its News of the World tabloid, but Hunt faced uncomfortable questions at the Leveson inquiry about whether he had conducted his role with proper impartiality. He survived with Cameron’s support, and has now been rewarded with a promotion to one of the key jobs in U.K. government.

Before becoming an MP in 2005, Miller had two stints working in marketing and advertising at ad agency Grey. Miller also worked at oil giant Texaco in marketing and business development and at PR company Rowland, then owned by Saatchi & Saatchi.

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