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U.K. pol admits to Murdoch ties

Jeremy Hunt gives evidence to media enquiry

LONDON

U.K. media minister Jeremy Hunt, who is fighting to save his job, was in close contact with BSkyB chairman James Murdoch on the day he was handed responsibility for News Corp.’s bid to own the paybox outright, he said on Wednesday.

He sent a text message to Murdoch congratulating him on the bid being cleared by European competition regulators.

“Great and congrats on Brussels. Just Ofcom to go,” said Hunt to Murdoch.

By the end of the day, Dec. 21, 2010, Hunt had been put in charge of ruling on the bid after his colleague, Vince Cable, was removed because of his anti-Murdoch bias.

Hunt was giving evidence under oath at the Leveson inquiry into press ethics sparked by the phone-hacking scandal at News Corp.’s now defunct News of the World.

Hunt’s advisor, Adam Smith, was recently forced to resign over his links to the Murdoch camp, but despite claims that Hunt’s actions contravened the code of conduct for ministers he has kept his job.

On the same day he texted Murdoch, Hunt also sent messages to chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne and the prime minister’s spin doctor, Andy Coulson (a former News of the World editor), saying he was “seriously worried” that the government would “screw up” the News Corp. bid.

He said he was sympathetic to the bid as he could not see a major media plurality problem.

Hunt was questioned over why he phoned James Murdoch in November 2010 after receiving legal advice from his department that he should not have direct contact with News Corp.

He said, “I didn’t interpret (the legal advice) to mean that I could not be in touch with people in the industry that I was responsible for, and understand the issues around the biggest merger the media industry had ever seen and on which thousands of jobs depended.”

In a separate development, Coulson has been charged with perjury in connection with the hacking of Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan’s phone. Coulson, who ankled as prime minister David Cameron’s spin doctor in January 2011, denies the charge.

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