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BSkyB links put U.K. minister at risk

Media minister may have to step down

LONDON — There is renewed pressure on the U.K. media minister, Jeremy Hunt, to ankle following fresh revelations about his support for News Corp.’s bid to own BSkyB outright.

It emerged Thursday at the Leveson inquiry into press ethics that Hunt wrote privately to the British Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to back the BSkyB bid just weeks before Cameron put him in charge of ruling on the issue.

In an email, Hunt told the Prime Minister that owning the paybox outright would allow News Corp. to become ”the world’s first multi-platform media operator,” and said that the U.K. ”media sector will suffer for years” if the bid was blocked.

Weeks later the Prime Minister appointed Hunt to take charge of the bid in a ”quasi-judicial” role after a colleague, business minister Vince Cable, admitted he wanted to ”wage war on Murdoch” in a sting operation by journalists working for British newspaper the Daily Telegraph.

Hunt’s special advisor, Adam Smith, has already resigned because of his close links with the Murdoch camp.

The media minister, who has been described as a ”cheerleader for Murdoch,” said he was ”concerned because essentially what James Murdoch wants to do is to repeat what his father did with the move to Wapping and create the world’s first multi-platform media operator available from paper to web to TV to iPhone to iPad

”The U.K. has the chance to lead the way on this as we did in 80s with the Wapping move.”

This is a reference to when Rupert Murdoch moved his newspaper operation from central London to Wapping in order to break the power of the print unions, a move supported by the then Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher.

Hunt wrote to Cameron supporting the bid despite warnings from his own officials that he was over-stepping the mark because of his close relationships with News Corp.

It was revealed that while a meeting with James Murdoch, then chair of BSkyB, was cancelled, Hunt instead spoke to him privately on the phone.

Murdoch’s lobbyist, Frederic Michel, told his boss in an email: ”Jeremy has received very strong legal advice not to meet us today as the current process is treated as a judicial one (not a policy one) and any meeting could be referred to and jeopardise the entire process.

”Jeremy is very frustrated about it but the permanent secretary has now also been involved You could have a chat with him on his mobile and I will liaise with his team privately as well.”

The BSkyB bid collapsed last July as the full extent of phone hacking at the Murdoch owned News of the World became clear.

Hunt is due to appear before Leveson in the near future, but he may be forced to quit before then.

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