CULTURE Secretary Jeremy Hunt last night defied Labour calls for his resignation after claims that he secretly backed News Corporation's bid to take over satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
Mr Hunt insisted he had conducted the process of deciding whether to green-light the BSkyB bid with “scrupulous fairness” and wrote to the Leveson Inquiry asking to be given an early date to give his side of the story in formal evidence.
In a dramatic development, the Leveson Inquiry into press standards yesterday released a 163-page dossier of emails detailing contacts between the Culture Secretary’s office and a senior executive at News Corp.
Labour said the documents showed Mr Hunt failed to fulfil his quasi-judicial role in relation to the proposed takeover, which he had promised to carry out in a “fair and even-handed” way.
And they said David Cameron also had questions to answer, after News Corp executive James Murdoch told the inquiry that he and the Prime Minister had briefly discussed the BSkyB bid in December 2010, days after Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of his decision-making power on the takeover.
Downing Street insisted last night that the Culture Secretary still had the Prime Minister’s full confidence.
But Labour leader Ed Miliband said Mr Hunt must resign and warned Mr Cameron he too had “questions to answer”.
“I myself have said all politicians, including Labour, became too close to the Murdochs, but this is in a completely different league,” said Mr Miliband.
“We have Jeremy Hunt engaging in detailed discussions with a party, News Corporation, that is bidding to take over BSkyB and he is supposed to be the impartial judge.
“There are also questions for David Cameron to answer because now we know that just after Vince Cable was stripped of responsibility for the BSkyB takeover and it was passed to Jeremy Hunt, he, David Cameron, was having discussions with James Murdoch and others. We need to know what happened in those discussions.” In a statement Mr Hunt said: “Now is not a time for knee-jerk reactions.
“We’ve heard one side of the story, but some of the evidence reported meetings and conversations that simply didn’t happen.
“Rather than jump on the political bandwagon, we need to hear what Lord Justice Leveson thinks after he’s heard all the evidence.
“Let me be clear. My number one priority was to give the public confidence in the integrity of process. I asked for advice from independent regulators – which I didn’t have to do – and I followed that advice to the letter.
“I would like to resolve this issue as soon as possible which is why I have written to Lord Justice Leveson asking if my appearance can be brought forward.
“I am very confident that when I present my evidence the public will see that I conducted this process with scrupulous fairness.”