by Brian Cathcart
So now we know the character of the relationship between the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and News International, and it could hardly look much worse if he had been caught accepting brown envelopes full of used tenners.
Jeremy Hunt (or, just conceivably, those acting directly on his behalf) acted as cheerleader, facilitator, counsellor, informer and all-round flunkey for a huge, avaricious, foreign-owned corporation – at a time when it was the subject of grave allegations of misconduct that have since been admitted.
This man is on our payroll, entrusted with safeguarding the public’s interest in the (pretty important) world of media and communications. On this evidence, you have to wonder about his relationship with Google, Microsoft and Facebook, not to mention the owners of the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express. (And, again on this evidence, his hostile attitude to the BBC makes all too much sense.)
After today, you have to wonder whom he is working for.
The hardcore press and its apologists (including Mr Hunt’s colleague, Michael Gove) wanted us to think that Leveson is a bore and his inquiry a miserable witch-hunt got up by whinging celebs who want to gag our precious fourth estate. Well if anybody was bored, I bet they are sitting up now.
After the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone, the policeman’s champagne, the surveillance of plaintiffs’ lawyers, the reporter’s letter in a five-year-old’s schoolbag, and – let’s not forget – the horse, now we have another potent image to remember: the Cabinet minister as Rupert Murdoch’s Little Helper, beavering away day and night on the tycoon’s business.
The very idea that Hunt could continue to hold responsibility for broadcasting and press policy in this country is offensive if not laughable. That he didn’t resign in shame the moment he knew these emails would become public is peculiar (until you actually read the emails and get the measure of him). That he wasn’t sacked when he failed to do so is disappointing.
Imagine that, six months from now, he is still in his job. He would then be one of the two ministers responsible for receiving the Leveson report, which in all likelihood will have to include several pages of damning criticism of his (Hunt’s) conduct.
It will also include Leveson’s recommendations for press regulation and for the regulation of the conduct of the police and politicians in relation to the press. Hunt would then be the minister responsible for formulating policy on the basis of the report — in effect, choosing which bits to implement and which to dump. He would have to steer any legislation through the Commons.
Can he not see now how impossible that is? Can he not see that he could not open his mouth in public or in Parliament without being damned as Murdoch’s Little Helper? He has to go.
Brian Cathcart teaches journalism at Kingston University London and is a founder of Hacked Off. He tweets at @BrianCathcart