Hunt hits back at email claims
Jeremy Hunt has pledged not to resign as Culture Secretary, despite a tranche of emails released today exposing the contacts between News Corporation and Mr Hunt.
The Culture Secretary has also asked Lord Leveson to bring forward his appearance before the Leveson Inquiry so he can rebut some of the allegations today. In a statement, Mr Hunt said he is “confident that when I present my evidence the public will see that I conducted this process with scrupulous fairness”. Government sources also indicate he believes some of the accounts in the emails are 'inaccurate'.
Mr Hunt said: “Now is not a time for kneejerk reactions. We’ve heard one side of the story today but some of the evidence reported meetings and conversations that simply didn’t happen."
The emails were sent as the company was trying to buy BSkyB. They indicate that News Corp executives were even given private briefings on Mr Hunt’s confidential discussions with regulators and other media organisations.
Ed Miliband has urged the Culture Secretary to resign, telling reporters David Cameron must fire him if he will not do so. The Labour leader said: “I’m afraid this is a Prime Minister completely out of touch if he thinks Jeremy Hunt can stay in post.”
Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman called this afternoon for the Culture Secretary's resignation, saying his stepping down would be the "right thing to do". Mr Hunt said he would make a statement later today.
Downing Street today insisted the Prime Minister retains full confidence in Mr Hunt and confirmed the Culture Secretary had not offered his resignation. However, the Prime Minister's official spokesperson refused to say Mr Cameron has full confidence in the "process followed" by The Department of Culture, Media and Sport during the takeover bid.
The spokesman added that the Prime Minister would not give a "running commentary" on the inquiry: "We have said throughout that we would not be providing a running commentary on it and that remains the case. It's a judicial inquiry and there is a process to be followed."
The release of the emails this afternoon followed James Murdoch's dramatic testimony to the Leveson Inquiry.
Mr Murdoch admitted he discussed the News International bid for BSkyB with David Cameron during Christmas dinner at Rebekah Brooks' home in 2010. The former executive chairman of News International also revealed he had met with Mr Hunt several times: he said he would be "surprised" if the bid had not been a topic of discussion at their first meeting in June 2010.
Mr Murdoch's evidence to the Leveson Inquiry contradicts previous statements from Downing Street that Mr Cameron and Mr Murdoch had not discussed the bid at their meeting, which took place two days after responsibility for the bid was transferred from Vince Cable to Mr Hunt.
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."
Mr Murdoch denied there was either a cover-up of phone hacking or a failure of governance at News International during his tenure as executive chairman.
He told the Leveson Inquiry he had been given "repeated assurances newsroom had been investigated, that there was no evidence", and that when the Guardian's phone hacking story broke, he was told: "that it wasn't true; that there was no other evidence; that it had been investigated to death and that it was a smear."
Mr Murdoch said ethical and legal issues were "very much in the hands of the editor" at News International. He added that he was not involved in deciding what was published, either by the News of the World or the Sun.