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LONDON – British prime minister David Cameron had to change his schedule Monday to go before the U.K. parliament to make a statement and face questions about U.K. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s conduct during Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp.’s failed bid to acquire full control of U.K. pay TV operator BSkyB.
Cameron reiterated his view that the Leveson Inquiry, set up to probe the media’s relationship with politics and the public, is the best and most robust way to establish what went on between Hunt, his department and News Corp.’s bid for BSkyB.
The prime minister also reiterated in front of the parliament that there was no “grand bargain” with News Corp. that promised it a positive regulatory review of the deal in return for media support of Cameron’s conservative party. The Murdochs also denied that there was a deal in place under oath at the Leveson enquiry, and Hunt will do the same when he gives evidence to Leveson.
The prime minister was called back to parliament to make his statement following a demand by the opposition Labour Party that Cameron answer “an emergency question” on whether or not Hunt breached the ministerial code in his dealings with Murdoch and his company during the time of the takeover process.
The prime minister spent almost an hour defending his stance that Hunt followed the advice of independent regulators and that the Leveson Inquiry was the best method of discovering what went on. Cameron pointed out that the culture secretary had taken a quartet of decisions that went against the wishes of News Corp. Cameron also said he has seen no evidence that Hunt broke the ministerial code.
Following appearances by Rupert and James Murdoch in front of the inquiry last week, Hunt came under pressure to resign as the opposition has argued he had inappropriately close contact with News Corp. during the review of the proposed transaction. His special adviser Adam Smith quit, saying his interaction with News Corp. reps had been unauthorized and went too far. Hunt is expected to tell his side of the story in front of the Leveson Inquiry in the near future, having already pledged not to resign.
Cameron said that ministers giving evidence under oath to a judicial inquiry had a greater chance of getting to the truth than a ministerial conduct inquiry that would be conducted behind closed doors and not have the same rigor when it came to calling on evidence.
Leveson said late last week that it was not for him to rule on whether or not a minister had broken a code. But Cameron said that he wanted the Leveson Inquiry to run its full course and that Labour was using it for political purposes.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said Hunt was in clear breach of the ministerial code of conduct and that Hunt had omitted to fully reveal to parliament before the Leveson Inquiry the extent of the communication between his department and News Corp.
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