Sunday, December 17, 2017

British minister grilled over role in Murdoch takeover bid

LONDON — British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt sent News Corp. executive James Murdoch a congratulatory text message about a takeover bid by the media conglomerate on the same day Hunt was handed responsibility for approving the bid, a media ethics inquiry heard Thursday.

During highly anticipated testimony by Hunt, a senior government minister in charge of this summer's London Olympics, emails and text messages were disclosed showing his support for News Corp.'s $12 billion takeover bid of British Sky Broadcasting, or BSkyB, a lucrative satellite broadcaster.

The bid was withdrawn at the peak of a phone-hacking scandal that continues to engulf Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., the world's second-largest media conglomerate. Tabloid employees were accused of tapping telephones, bribing police and other transgressions in pursuit of juicy stories.

The handling of the BSkyB bid has emerged as a key factor in the long-running inquiry that is shining a light on the links between the media and politicians. Critics have accused the Conservative government of backing the BSkyB takeover in exchange for favorable coverage in the Murdoch press.

Hunt, in particular, has been fighting for his job since April, when an aide resigned after the disclosure of emails that suggested Hunt's office had inappropriate contact with News Corp.

In his quasijudicial role, Hunt was tasked with making an impartial decision on whether News Corp.'s bid violated Britain's anti-monopoly rules.

Hunt admitted he had been publicly "sympathetic" to the bid, but he insisted that once in charge, he set his sympathies aside and acted scrupulously and fairly.

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