News Corp. Lobbyist Reveals Dealings With U.K. Government During Rupert Murdoch-led BSkyB Bid
News Corp. lobbyist Frédéric Michel told the Leveson Inquiry into U.K. media ethics he got updates on the timings and progress on Rupert Murdoch's $12 billion bid to buy U.K. satcaster BSkyB.
He also detailed the breadth and depth of exchanges between News Corp. and the British government's department of culture, media and sport.
Michel's testimony to the Leveson enquiry, set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal to probe the U.K. media's relationship with politics, police and the public, is important because it gives a flavor of just how close the government may or may not have got with Murdoch's News Corp. during the process.
And the Leveson enquiry also heard -- over the course of almost five hours on the stand -- Michel talk through the myriad communication between himself and the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith, who resigned his position after his correspondence was published at the end of last month.
Michel's evidence also pointed to the fact that the DCMS suggested Murdoch and News Corp. "stay in the game" in bidding for the satcaster.
Michel joined News Corp. as director of public affairs for Europe in May 2009 and told Leveson's chief inquisitor Robert Jay that News Corp's BSkyB bid "became a very full job" from September 2010 and increased "further and further" throughout the process. It took up 80 percent of his time, he said.
Michel told the enquiry he was only aware News Corp. was launching a bid for full control of BSkyB the day before it was publicly announced and claimed to have not been part of a "circle of confidence" that knew in advance.
But the spotlight between the relationship between Hunt, special advisor Smith and News Corp. intensified.
Jay's tally of the evidence supplied indicated there were 191 telephone calls, 158 emails, and 799 text messages between Michel and the DCMS, of which 90 percent were with [special advisor] Smith.
Michel said he did not have any reason to believe Smith was or was not in favor of the BSkyB bid.
And when pressed over whether or not he felt during the time-span covering the bidding process that Hunt was in favor of the bid, Michel said: "My view is that Jeremy Hunt was probably supportive of some of the arguments we were putting forward and he has made that public on the plurality [issue]."
Michel was replaced on the witness stand by Smith late in the day for an initial round of quesitoning. Hunt is also due to take the witness stand to give his version of events in his role in the BSkyB bid by News Corp.
Smith described his role in the BSkyB bid process as being a "buffer and line of communication" between News Corp., Hunt and his government department. But he said it wasn't a direct instruction from Hunt to take on that role.