Did Jeremy Hunt abuse his office?

Did culture secretary Jeremy Hunt cross the line in his support for Robert Murdoch? Emily Hohler reports.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, so James Murdoch had a "delectable banquet" at the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday, says Matthew Norman in The Independent.

He recalled talking about News Corp's bid for BSkyB with David Cameron at the Oxfordshire home of Rebekah Brooks, the former CEO of News International, and discussed a cache of emails between a News Corp executive, Frederic Michel, and Adam Smith, a special adviser to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was overseeing the bid in a quasi-judicial role.

Jeremy Hunt has a lot of explaining to do, and "by the time Rupert Murdoch finishes his own testimony to Leveson", David Cameron may do too, says The Daily Telegraph. If Hunt was "obsequious" towards the Murdoch empire (he described himself on his website as a cheerleader' for Rupert Murdoch), he was "simply following the lead of his boss". Cameron has "taken as many pains to cultivate his relationship with the Murdochs and their acolytes" since becoming leader of the Conservative Party as he has "to conceal just how close it is".

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In December 2010, Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of responsibility for the BSkyB bid after being secretly recorded saying that he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch, on the grounds that his anti-Murdoch comments were "totally unacceptable and inappropriate". Yet "it seems that Hunt's pro-Murdoch bias was both acceptable and appropriate".

The Leveson inquiry is no longer about the phone-hacking scandal, but about the "nature of the relationship between politicians and the press", says The Times. The evidence marshalled on Tuesday suggests that it is not, as has "often been suggested", news organisations that promise good coverage in exchange for "commercial favour". Rather it is politicians who "offer punitive or preferential treatment" depending on what is written about them.

The question now is whether Hunt abused his office to pursue a pro-Murdoch agenda. At best his office was providing a running commentary on a deal on which Hunt was supposed to be adjudicating. At worst he was offering market-sensitive information to the bidder and helping to frame remedies that would secure the bid.

Smith has resigned and, for now, Hunt has the backing of the PM, says the Daily Mail. "But surely the damage is done." His "fitness for high office" has been called into question, and the public's "already battered trust in the integrity of our political class" has suffered yet another blow.

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.