U.K. Official Says He Faced 'Veiled Threats' Amid News Corp.-BSkyB Deal Review

Vince Cable - 2010
Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Business secretary Vince Cable also argues his controversial comment about having declared war on Rupert Murdoch was simply meant to show he wouldn't be intimidated.

LONDON - British business secretary Vince Cable said here Wednesday that he faced "veiled threats" during his review of the play by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for full control of U.K. pay TV giant BSkyB.

Appearing at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics, he said that the threats suggested that if he made the "wrong" decision on the proposed deal, which was later scrapped amid the phone hacking scandal, "my party [the Liberal Democrats] would be, I think somebody used the phrase, done over" by News Corp. newspapers.

The politician didn't provide definite proof though. Asked who had made the threats, Cable mentioned News Corp. lobbyist Fred Michel, but he also said that he was "not absolutely certain."

Questioned by a counsel for News Corp., he said he had no record of the meeting with the unnamed person who told him about Michel's alleged threats, adding: ""I'm not seeking to build up a case against Mr. Michel."

Cable also argued that his controversial comment that he had declared war on Rupert Murdoch was simply meant to show he wouldn't be intimidated in his regulatory review. The comment was designed to emphasize that "I had no intention of being intimidated," he said. 

Cable several times emphasized that while people in his positions have political and other opinions, he and others must put those aside at times, including in deal reviews. Politicians must approach such cases with an open, but not blind mind, he said.

Cable was taken off the deal review, which could have opened the way for the conglomerate to raise its 39 percent stake in BSkyB to 100 percent, following his comment about declaring war on Murdoch.

The government official agreed Wednesday that News Corp. deputy COO and former BSkyB chairman James Murdoch and News Corp. wanted the regulatory decision to be made purely on the argument of the statutory test.

He also said he declined to meet with James Murdoch and other lobby groups, arguing that he would have had to meet with all of them without the ability to have a real discussion about the deal review since that would have been improper.

In his written statement about the war comment, Cable cited "reports coming back to me of how News Corporation representatives had been approaching several of my Liberal Democrat colleagues in a way I judged to be inappropriate."

He explained the context of his remark about declaring war on Murdoch by saying: "The reports suggested that News Corporation representatives were either trying to influence my views or seeking material, which might be used to challenge any adverse ruling I might make…These colleagues expressed some alarm about whether this whole affair was going to lead to retribution against the Liberal Democrats through News International newspapers."

Cable's written statement also said that "I believed that the Murdochs' political influence exercised through their newspapers had become disproportionate."

In front of the Leveson hearing, he emphasized that BSkyB's Sky News was "politically neutral," but News International was seen as a bigger concern.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai