James Murdoch discussed the BSkyB takeover bid with David Cameron at a private dinner hosted by Rebekah Brooks, the Leveson Inquiry had heard.
The pair attended the dinner on December 23, 2010, just two days after Business Secretary Vince Cable was removed as minister in charge of the deal. Downing Street has previously refused to clarify whether the deal was spoken about during the occasion.
Cable was stripped of the powers after journalists from the Daily Telegraph secretly recorded him referring to a “war on Murdoch”. Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was then given responsibility for approving the takeover.
Murdoch told the inquiry the discussion had been a “tiny conversation” before the main dinner, where he expressed concerns that the bid should be handled appropriately, and accused Cable of an “acute bias” against News Corp.
He said: “I imagine I expressed the hope that things would be dealt with in way that was appropriate and judicial. It was a tiny side conversation, it was not a discussion.”
The inquiry was shown a series of 2010 emails between Murdoch, head of press Frederic Michel and others at News Corp, on the government’s approach to the takeover. They indicated Michel was in regular contact with Hunt, referred to by inquiry counsel Robert Jay QC as a “cheerleader” for Murdoch’s empire.
The messages described Cable’s concern over phone hacking at the News of the World and pressure from the Liberal Democrats and Labour over Rupert Murdoch’s political agenda.
James Murdoch denied an inappropriate relationship between Hunt and News Corp, saying the minister had acted appropriately during the bid. He also rebutted claims the Sun switched support to the Conservatives prior to the 2010 general election to garner political power.
He added: “At every turn Mr Hunt took the advice of the independent regulators, Ofcom and the OFT in particular, at every single decision point… the question of support of an individual newspaper for politicians one way or another is not something that I would ever link to a commercial transaction like this, nor would I expect that political support one way or another ever translate into a minster behaving in an inappropriate way, ever. I simply wouldn’t do business that way.”
Jay put it to Murdoch that his lack of knowledge on the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World was the result of a cover-up or lack of governance at the paper, which he denied.
Repeating evidence given to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Murdoch said he had been ill-informed by then editor Colin Myler and legal affairs manager Tom Crone. He maintained he was not shown the “For Neville” email, a document potentially implicating other NoW journalists in phone hacking.
He added: “By the time I arrived the whole issue of 2006 and 2007 was packed away, if you will and the company defence that it was a rogue report, that it had been investigated and the police had closed the case was already and had been firmly in place for a while. “
Jay QC asked why Murdoch had not questioned a phone hacking settlement of £350,000 offered to PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor by Crone, when barrister Michael Silverleaf QC had advised the company the amount should be no more than £250,000. Murdoch said he was unaware of the details of the case and the suggestion Taylor had been paid “hush money” to prevent accusations of widespread hacking being made.
Murdoch said claims he had stormed into the Independent’s officers with Rebekah Brooks in 2010 were exaggerated, but admitted he confronted editor Simon Kelner after a series of billboards saying “Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election – you will” were erected around the country before the election. He accused the paper of personalising an inappropriate agenda against his father.
He added: “I went into the front door, they didn’t really have a desk, or a lock for that matter. So you’re automatically in the middle of the newsroom, which I wasn’t intending to do. I didn’t storm in anywhere.
“I told him of my concerns and I told him – whether or not I used colourful language, I wouldn’t dispute. But it wasn’t in the open in the newsroom and I was particularly upset because Mr Kelner had been availing himself to the hospitality of my family for years and I thought it was beyond the pale and not a decent way to go about his business.”
Murdoch is continuing to give evidence this afternoon.