James Murdoch defends actions at U.K. inquiry

Exec claims he acted properly during BSkyB bid

LONDON James Murdoch, who recently resigned as chairman of U.K. paybox BSkyB, has denied he used the influence of his family’s British newspapers or his relationship with U.K. pols to help News Corp.’s bid to own BSkyB outright.

In evidence given Tuesday to the Leveson inquiry, which is probing media ethics in the wake of the phone hacking and police corruption scandal at the now defunct News of the World, Murdoch said that he would never link the political support of the News Intl. papers to any commercial transaction.

“I simply wouldn’t do business that way,” said Murdoch.

Earlier he had insisted that the “old-fashioned” view of big media proprietors “dominating the landscape” does not exist anymore because people get their news in a variety of ways.

News Corp.’s £12 billion ($19.3 billion) bid to own BSkyB outright collapsed last summer when it emerged that the News of the World had hacked the cell phone of murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

At Leveson, Murdoch said that News Corp. had wanted to buy the 60.9% of BSkyB it did not own since 1990 when Sky merged with British Satellite Broadcasting to form BSkyB.

But it was almost 20 years before the attempt to take over the satcaster emerged during talks held in Los Angeles in August 2009, said the News Corp. topper.

Regarding the bid, Murdoch said he was “alive to the risk” that politics might influence his company’s position. But that ultimately it “rested on the soundness of the legal case.”

He said he was convinced the bid would succeed but became frustrated at how long it was taking as U.K. regulators began to intervene.

Murdoch, who again denied any knowledge of widespread phone hacking at News Intl. when he ran the company, voiced particular frustration at how Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, when business secretary, refused to meet him to discuss the bid.

Cable was sacked after it emerged that he had “declared war on Murdoch” in a sting operation by the Daily Telegraph, a rival newspaper to News Intl.’s stable.

Murdoch accused Cable of showing acute bias against the bid.

He admitted that he had talked about the takeover with Prime Minister David Cameron in December 2010.

Murdoch also acknowledged he had played a role in moving the support of the Sun, Britain’s best-selling newspaper, from Gordon Brown’s Labour Party to Cameron’s Conservative party in the fall of 2009.

When Cameron was leader of the opposition, Murdoch said the two men discussed a broad range of subjects during several meetings, but denied that these talks would be of commercial advantage to his company.

In written evidence to Leveson, it emerged that Murdoch and Cameron had eight dinners and breakfasts together between late June 2006 and September 2009.

Murdoch also did not deny that he was friendly with Britain’s second most powerful politician, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

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