Murdoch Had ‘Tiny’ Chat With PM About BSkyB

April 24th, 20129:57 pm @


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9:07pm UK, Tuesday April 24, 2012

James Murdoch has said for the first time that he and David Cameron spoke about News Corporation’s proposed takeover of BSkyB.

The former chairman of News International (NI) told the Leveson Inquiry the attempts by NI’s parent company News Corporation to acquire the 61% of the broadcaster that it did not already own were raised at a meeting in 2010.

Mr Murdoch said he and the Prime Minister spoke at a Christmas dinner at the home of Rebekah Brooks, former editor of The Sun, about how Business Secretary Vince Cable had just been stripped of his responsibilities for regulating the media.

The Gordon Taylor settlement is still the trickiest area for James Murdoch to deal with, and sparked the sharpest exchanges.

Click for more analysis by Sky’s Joey Jones

Mr Cable, described by Mr Murdoch as having an “acute bias” over the BSkyB bid, had recently been caught on tape by undercover reporters claiming to have “declared war” on the News Corp empire of his father, Rupert Murdoch.

Mr Murdoch said he and Mr Cameron mentioned what had happened.

“He reiterated what he had said publicly, which is that the behaviour had been unacceptable, and I imagine I expressed the hope that things would be dealt with in a way that was appropriate and judicial.”

He added: “It was a tiny conversation ahead of a dinner where all these people were there, so it wasn’t really a discussion.”

Mr Murdoch was also questioned about the phone-hacking scandal which began to engulf NI last year.

:: QA – Why have Murdochs been called to Leveson Inquiry?

He said he was assured when he took the helm of the business that there was no evidence of phone hacking at the News Of The World beyond the activities of a single reporter.

He stood by his comments to MPs last year that he had not been informed of the ‘For Neville’ email, referring to NOTW reporter Neville Thurlbeck, which indicated that hacking was widespread.

Asked by counsel for the inquiry Robert Jay QC if he knew the problem was more extensive than just one reporter, Mr Murdoch said: “No, to the contrary.

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“The assurances that I was given were the same assurances that were given to the Select Committee (last year) – that the paper had been investigated thoroughly, no new evidence was found, that the police had closed the case and had made public announcements to that effect.”

He said he had a “general awareness that a reporter had illegally intercepted voicemails, had gone to jail along with the private investigator involved”.

Mr Murdoch also said he was given assurances that Press Complaints Commission guidelines were being adhered to at the paper and that claims of phone hacking were “in the past”.

He admitted that corporate systems at News International (NI) – publisher of the NOTW as well as The Sun, The Sunday Times and The Times – had failed to pick up on any legal risks posed by its papers’ methods of finding stories.

And he said the NOTW should not have run a story falsely alleging that former Formula One boss Max Mosley had a “sick Nazi orgy”.

But he said he was “not in the business of deciding what to put in newspapers”.

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Questioned about his relationship with senior British politicians he told the inquiry about a series of 12 meetings he had with David Cameron while he was leader of the opposition.

Four of those meetings were also attended by Mrs Brooks, including the dinner where he said the BSkyB deal was “briefly” raised.

There were also drinks with the Tory leader in September 2009 to discuss The Sun’s plans to back the party in the 2010 general election, the inquiry heard.

James Murdoch was giving evidence ahead of his father, who will appear before the inquiry on Wednesday as it moves its focus onto the relationship between the press and politicians.

The 39-year-old was only the second witness – after the information commissioner, Richard Thomas – to have a full day set aside for his testimony.

Two days have been scheduled for Rupert Murdoch‘s evidence.

The Leveson Inquiry was established at the request of the Prime Minister after a series of allegations about phone hacking at the NOTW last summer, which led to the 168-year-old paper being closed down.

:: Read more from the Leveson Inquiry

    :: GlaxoSmithKline
       January 27

    :: News International
       February 29

    :: Sotheby’s
       March 16

    :: BSkyB
       April 3

James Murdoch

Both James and Rupert Murdoch gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee last July where they denied any knowledge of phone hacking and apologised to victims.

James Murdoch, who was chairman of NI when the hacking allegations about murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler surfaced last year, returned to the Select Committee in November to give further evidence.

He has since stepped down from his position at NI, as well as the chairmanship of BSkyB, owner of Sky News, but he remains a non-executive director of the broadcaster.

News Corporation dropped its BSkyB bid in the wake of phone-hacking allegations. The acquisition was described by James Murdoch as a long-held News Corp aspiration.

Mr Cameron’s official spokesman declined to comment on Mr Murdoch’s account of his meetings with the Prime Minister, and his suggestion that they discussed the BSkyB bid at the December 2010 dinner.

Mr Cameron has previously told MPs that he had “no responsibility” for the takeover and asked to be taken out of any decision-making.

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