After simmering on the back burner for months, the Murdoch scandal is back on the front pages of London’s newspapers today with damning revelations that are igniting a new crisis for British Prime Minister David Cameron and his government.
More than 170 pages of James Murdoch’s emails have been released. They show that senior staff in the office of Britain’s Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt were repeatedly giving confidential information to James Murdoch’s lobbyist during critical negotiations over News Corps’ $13 billion efforts to take over BSkyB, Britain’s powerful and highly profitable satellite broadcaster.
Publicly Hunt had insisted that he was acting independently and impartially, but the Murdoch emails suggest he was secretly acting in the interest of Murdoch’s News Corp.
Today Adam Smith, one of Hunt’s senior advisers has resigned. There are now widespread calls for Hunt’s resignation. But he dismissed those calls. “The idea that I was backing this bid is laughable,” he told Parliament although it is not clear the senior cabinet minister can survive.
One email quotes Hunt referring to Murdoch’s efforts to push through the takeover, saying “we’d get there in the end“ and adding he “shared” News Corporation’s objective.
But the smoking gun is in an email sent by Murdoch’s lobbyist the day before Hunt was to give a key speech in Parliament about the takeover. The lobbyist wrote to James Murdoch: ”Managed to get some infos [sic] on the plans for tomorrow (although absolutely illegal…!)” The email goes on to give accurate information about what the minister would be saying a day later. A serious breach of parliamentary privilege in Britain and explicit proof that the Murdochs were working inside the Cameron government.
That lead to screaming headlines in this morning’s London papers.
The Guardian: Minister for Murdoch
The Telegraph: ‘Absolutely Illegal’
The Independent: James Murdoch’s Revenge
In Parliament today Opposition Leader Ed Miliband pounced on the revelations, saying a “shadow of sleaze” hangs over the Cameron government.
Not far from Westminster, James Murdoch’s father, Rupert, the scion of News Corp., began his first day of testimony at Britain’s media ethics inquiry. Far from being the doddering old man who appeared before a British parliamentary committee last Fall, the 81-year-old Murdoch was sharp, focused and calm under examination. He did get a little testy when pushed by what the inquiry counsel called subtle “sinister inferences” about his relationship with senior Conservative politicians in Britain.
“I’m afraid I don’t have much subtlety in me,” Murdoch responded.