Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm On The Hunt I'm After You

The lack culture secretary the vile and odious rascal Hunt has, of course, rejected Labour calls for him to resign over claims that he privately supported attempts by News Corporation to take full control of BSkyB. This came after he got the dreaded vote of confidence from his boss. But, as every football manager who's ever received one of those will tell you, they're usually not worth the paper they're not printed on when the pressure starts reaching the next level. Labour leader Ed Milimolimandi - with his curious speech-impediment and lack of even a smidgen of political gravitas - said that e-mails revealed at the Leveson Inquiry showed the vile and odious rascal Hunt had been a 'back channel' for News Corp rather than being impartial. To be scrupulously fair, this blog had been calling the vile and odious rascal Hunt a complete and utter 'back channel' for the best part of the last three years. Remember this, for instance? And, that was before the vile and odious rascal got his, ahem, 'back channel' into government. The vile and odious rascal Hunt insisted, of course, that he had handled the process with 'scrupulous fairness.' One or two people even believed him. A string of e-mails released by the inquiry into press standards suggested that there was a steady flow of information from the lack of culture secretary's office to News Corp advisers when the firm was bidding to take over BSkyB. Just in case Jezza his very self doesn't realise quite how deep the shit he's in at the moment is, a glance at this morning's papers might, just, give him a clue. (It's to be hoped he reads the Sun first, Fernando Torres and John Terry have pushed him onto page two, there.)
They've done you up like a kipper, Jez. They've hung you out by your knackers to twist in the wind. It's quite a sight, to be honest. And, it couldn't possibly happen to a nicer bloke. The vile and odious rascal Hunt has Number 10's public backing - for the moment - but his position remains precarious and the chances of him deciding to 'spend more time with his family' remain high. There are several fronts to the lack of culture secretary's defence. By consulting with regulators and civil servants throughout the bid he insists that he acted with integrity and scrupulous objectivity, with the permanent secretary at the lack of culture department agreeing that the vile and odious rascal Hunt's special advisor should 'act as a conduit' with News Corp during the process. The vile and odious rascal Hunt argues that the texts and e-mails seen so far are a partial, second-hand account of what was going. And yet, the chummy channel of communication from his aide to News Corporation provided the company with a huge amount of inside information, sometimes before Parliament had received it, and raises many questions about whether the information given to the company undermined the quasi-judicial process or breached the ministerial code. Or, indeed, both. The issue is sure to dominate Prime Minister's Questions and Ed Milimolimandi may probe the Prime Minister about his own 'chat' with Murdoch the small about the BSkyB bid at a dinner at well-known known Crystal Tipps lookalike Rebekah Brooks' house in December 2010. Probing about back channels. Yes. It's come to this, dear blog reader. At the same time, Rupert Murdoch will be giving his own evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, testimony which could be very uncomfortable for Cabinet ministers of both sides of the chamber past and present. In one e-mail, Fréderic Michel, head of public affairs at News Corp, told James Murdoch the small that he, Michel, had 'managed to get some information' on the vile and odious rascal Hunt's statement on the BSkyB bid to Parliament due the next day although it was, he said, with an exclamation mark and a smiley-face 'absolutely illegal.' Murdoch told an incredulous inquiry that the reference had been 'a joke.' But Labour said that the documents showed the vile and odious rascal Hunt failed to fulfil his quasi-judicial role over the BSkyB bid. Milimolimandi said: 'He should resign. He himself said that his duty was to be transparent, impartial and fair in the BSkyB takeover. But now we know that he was providing advice, guidance and privileged access to News Corporation. He was acting as a back channel for the Murdochs. He cannot stay in his post. And if he refuses to resign, the prime minister must show some leadership and fire him.' The vile and odious rascal Hunt said that he had asked Lord Justice Leveson to bring forward his own appearance at the inquiry. He had been due to give evidence along with other politicians including the prime minister in May. The vile and odious rascal Hunt said: 'Now is not a time for knee-jerk reactions.' Oh, I very much think it is, pal. 'We've heard one side of the story today but some of the evidence reported meetings and conversations that simply didn't happen. Rather than jump on a political bandwagon, we need to hear what Lord Justice Leveson thinks after he's heard all the evidence.' In June 2010, News Corp had been bidding to take over the sixty one per cent of BSkyB which it did not already own. That November, the Business Secretary Vince Cable, asked media regulator Ofcom to look at the potential impact of the deal on media plurality. Hunt took over responsibility for overseeing the BSkyB bid after Cable was stripped of the role in December 2010, having been secretly recorded by two undercover Torygraph journalists saying he had 'declared war' on Rupert Murdoch.
Disclosure of the e-mail exchanges between the vile and odious rascal Hunt's office and News Corporation lobbyists while the BSkyB takeover bid was in progress would have raised questions about the lack of culture secretary's role, according to a former government lawyer. 'Based on these e0mails, there's clearly a risk of bias,' said Carl Gardner, a former government adviser and legal commentator. 'I don't think any decision by Hunt to clear the deal could have been legally sustainable if these e-mails had been disclosed to a court.' Under the 2002 Enterprise Act, the secretary of state lost most of his powers to decide on whether or not business mergers should be approved. They were transferred to the Competition Commission in order to make the process less political and more impartial. The secretary of state, however, was allowed to make decisions in a restricted number of cases related to national security, stability of the UK financial system and plurality of the media. In fulfilling what is known as his 'quasi-judicial role' – in this case deciding whether to refer News Corporation's takeover bid for BSkyB to the commission – the vile and odious rascal Hunt insisted in March 2011 that he had been 'independent.' He told MPs then: 'We have to assume, because there are so many interests at stake, that any side that is disappointed with this decision will attempt judicially to review it. For that reason, at every stage of the process, we have sought to be completely transparent, impartial and fair.' Documents relating to meetings with News Corporation and the vile and odious rascal Hunt's department were simultaneously released. The Enterprise Act, and its predecessor the Fair Trading Act 1973, do not use the phrase 'quasi-judicial.' Nor do they spell out the type of contacts permissible between any secretary of state assessing public interest considerations and the business engaged in the takeover. Gardner also doubted whether 'quasi-judicial' had any actual definition in law. 'Someone could mount a [judicial] challenge based on Hunt's past views,' he said. 'We used to think [in law] there were different categories of decisions that [required] different levels of fairness. Now it's accepted that fairness is what is required in the circumstances.' One previous case that may be used as a precedent in assessing fairness, Gardner suggested, was the 2001 House of Lords decision in Porter vs Magill which set out the test 'whether the fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility that the tribunal [or any decision maker] was biased.' Stephen Smith, head of competition at the corporate law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, said that the minister's role in making the decision was 'not defined in any way' in the act. Any such challenge to the minister's role, he added, 'would fall back on the normal principles of law such as those involved in planning disputes.' A final decision would be open to judicial review on the standard grounds of whether it was a reasonable conclusion for a public official to reach. Whether the bid was referred to the commission may have been the vile and odious rascal Hunt's decision, Smith added, but the secretary of state would have been working closely with regulators.
James Murdoch came to the Leveson inquiry to defend his own reputation, and ended up spending much of the remaining six and half hours on the stand, in effect, defending the lack culture secretary. But Murdoch the small's robust defence of News Corporation's insider lobbying tactics was not matched by anywhere near such a sure touch elsewhere, as his evidence revealed him to be incurious about phone-hacking and uninterested in newspapers.
The media mogul said that his chief lobbyist, Frédéric Michel, was simply 'doing his job' in his briefings again and again on titbits obtained from ministers and their special advisers with regard to the BSkyB bid. For all the information he received, Murdoch remained sceptical. Rather than seeing the information that came out of the vile and odious Hunt's team as particularly useful, he told the inquiry that he took all ministerial communications with a 'grain of salt' and that, if anything, he was as sceptical about politicians. Under questioning from Robert Jay QC, Murdoch argued that the vile and odious rascal Hunt simply wanted 'political cover' from News Corp during the critical time of January 2011 when the company was negotiating with the lack of culture secretary over how to get the Sky deal through. He said he took the vile and odious rascal Hunt's decision to co-operate with him as a reflection of the fact that 'he didn't want to take any heat alone' because he had 'never met a politician who did.' Murdoch the small said he had expected the vile and odious rascal Hunt, and Vince Cable before him, to 'take into account appropriate evidence' when determining the outcome of News Corp's eight billion smackers bid for BSkyB. The appropriate evidence that his father, billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch, wanted this deal to go through so it better had do or there'd be big trouble for someone and it would, most likely, be the ministers themselves and the governments they served in. The sometimes fissile thirty nine-year-old showed only one flash of anger. It was reserved for the business secretary, Vince Cable, for having shown 'acute bias' once it emerged that he had told two spectacularly stupid undercover Torygraph reporters that he had 'declared war on Murdoch.' The vile and odious rascal Hunt was mostly treated more respectfully, although when he was told that the vile and odious rascal Hunt could not see the News Corp chief in November 2010 Murdoch the small e-mailed Michel to say: 'You must be fucking joking. Fine. I will text him and find a time.' Murdoch explained to the inquiry that this meant he 'was displeased.' On 24 January, at 3.21pm while the stock market was still open, Michel managed to get information about the timetable next day for the vile and odious rascal Hunt's parliamentary announcement at which he could consider concessions from News Corp to help get the bid through. Where he got this information from will, likely, be the smoking gun that either ends the vile and odious rascal Hunt's career or, merely badly wounds it, but, nevertheless, he did get it. The lobbyist, in his e-mail to Murdoch the small, added for colour that this was 'absolutely illegal.' Amid laughter around the courtroom Murdoch attempted to pass off this damning line as something which he 'thought it was a joke', noting the unusual punctuation, which he described as 'a wink.' Jay wondered why, Cable excepted, Murdoch was getting such help from ministers. It was obvious why the vile and odious rascal Hunt was being so helpful, surely? It was because the Sun had backed the Conservatives before the election, the barrister said, and this was pay-back. Murdoch argued differently, saying: 'I simply wouldn't make that trade. It would be inappropriate to do so and I simply don't do business that way.' Jay demonstrated that Murdoch had seemed to be unable to ask the critical questions that might have told him there was more to the phone-hacking scandal than just Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire. At the crucial meeting to agree a - massive - secret payout to settle Gordon Taylor's hacking case, Murdoch was told that Colin Myler, the Scum of the World editor, and Tom Crone, the title's chief lawyer, had already made a three hundred and fifty thousand smackers offer which had been rejected. 'Didn't you think that was an extraordinary amount of money for this sort of allegation, even if proved?' asked Jay. Murdoch said that he had no idea: 'Well, I really didn't have any way to situate that amount of money with respect to the allegation.' He gave the two men authorisation to conclude a four hundred and twenty five grand settlement, plus costs, which took the eventual total above seven hundred thousand knicker. Murdoch said the Scum of the World executives could not wait to get out of the room to make the case go away. Jay did not say it, but privacy or similar actions at that time, typically ended up in low-to-mid-five-figure payouts. The News Corp executive was later asked if he had participated in 'a cover-up' over the Taylor case, or if he didn't read his e-mails 'properly'? Faced with the difficult question, Murdoch opted to shift the blame onto Myler and Crone. He said: 'I was told sufficient information to authorise them to go and negotiate at a higher level, and I was not told sufficient information to go and turn over a whole bunch of stones that I was told had already been turned over.' It was part of a strategy described by allies as 'emphasising consistency' with previous statements. Murdoch struggled whenever he talked about newspapers, saying that he read the Scum of the World 'from time to time' (although, obviously, not now that it's been shut down in disgrace and ignominy) and, as for the Sun, he 'tried to familiarise' himself with 'what was in it.' So, he looked at page three and said 'gosh, look at the size of those' then. When Dominic Mohan – the only editor appointed while he was chairman of News International – got the top job at the Sun, Murdoch appeared to be a bystander in the process. He said that Mohan had been well-known Crystal Tipps lookalike Rebekah Brooks's 'strong recommendation to take the post, and in consultation with my father and Mrs Brooks, I supported the appointment.' There was some recognition for other errors made. He apologised for the Max Mosley "Nazi orgy" story, saying that Myler "had asserted that the story was both true and in the public interest, and it was later found by the court to be neither, and that was something that is a matter of great regret". But he appeared dismissive about the "ethical risks" run by the Sunday title's style of journalism. He told the inquiry that if anybody was at fault it was the editor: "I think the ethical risk was something, and the legal risk around that was something that was very much in the hands of the editor."

There is, incidentally, a really good piece by the Gruniad Morning Star's Nick Davies of yesterday's extraordinary day at Leveson here: 'Critics of the Murdochs have often suspected that they have exploited their position as newspaper owners to win secret favours from governments – and the Murdochs and the politicians alike have denied it. Now, for the first time, courtesy of the volatile chain-reaction of the phone-hacking scandal, we have compelling evidence. In one hundred and sixty three pages of paperwork published by the Leveson inquiry, we can see the dialogue between James Murdoch's camp and the office of Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for media, who held in his hands the outcome of the biggest deal in the history of the Murdochs' News Corporation, the eight billion pounds takeover of BSkyB. According to Tuesday's evidence, Murdoch and his lobbyist, Fred Michel, worked their way through every crack in the walls of Whitehall in search of influence and, in Hunt's office, they found friends who would supply them with information, advice and support, even as Hunt claimed to the outside world that he was being impartial and even-handed. The evidence is likely to be disputed. These are merely Michel's versions of what was said, so they are hearsay. Furthermore, Michel has told the inquiry that his messages that claimed to report conversations with Hunt were in fact based on talking to Hunt's officials, which would mean that they are also secondhand. But, if the evidence stands up, we are looking at a story of secret and improper collusion of precisely the kind that Murdoch's critics suspected.'

Opposition politicians have called on Alex Salmond to 'come clean' about an apparent offer to intervene with the UK Government as part of News Corporation's bid to take over BSkyB. Labour, Tories and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland hit out at the First Minister after an e-mail from a senior figure at the company claimed Salmond would would call the lack of culture secretary the vile and odious rascal Hunt 'whenever we need him to.'
It emerged that News Corp's director of public affairs, Frederic Michel, had e-mailed James Murdoch and said: 'I met with Alex Salmond's adviser today. He will call Hunt whenever we need him to.' Labour leader Johan Lamont urged the Leveson Inquiry to call the First Minister as a witness: 'It seems all that mattered to Salmond was that he would support Murdoch in return for Murdoch's papers supporting Salmond.' Meanwhile Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie demanded the First Minister come to the Scottish Parliament to 'explain his actions', while former Tory leader David McLetchie accused Salmond of 'conduct unbecoming of a First Minister.' Opposition politicians hit out after counsel to the Leveson Inquiry Robert Jay asked Murdoch if the e-mail gave rise to the perception that 'favourable coverage' of Salmond in the Scottish Sun - which backed the SNP in last year's Holyrood elections - meant the First Minister would be more willing to call the vile and odious rascal Hunt 'whenever we need him to'? Murdoch the small, who stepped down as executive chairman of News International in February, replied: 'No, if the insinuation is that there was any quid pro quo with editorial coverage versus a commercial agenda, I can tell you categorically that it's false. There's no connection. That was absolutely not News Corporation's policy and I wouldn't do business like that.' The inquiry also heard an e-mail was sent from Michel to Murdoch on 2 March 2011, saying: 'Alex Salmond called. He had a very good dinner with the editor of the Sun in Scotland yesterday. The Sun is now keen to back the SNP at the election. The editor will make his pitch to the editorial team tomorrow. Alex wanted to see whether we could help smooth the way for the process.' A spokesman for the First Minister said later that it was 'total nonsense to suggest there was ever any quid pro quo offered by the Scottish Government over the BSkyB bid.' Salmond's spokesman later said: 'The First Minister has not corresponded with or spoken to Jeremy Hunt on the issue.' On the issue of the BSkyB takeover, the spokesman said the First Minister had not publicly given a view on the matter. He added that the First Minister could see no competition issues and that it was 'an important issue for Scotland in terms of jobs.'
But, this blogger thinks his favourite bit of reportage on this entire affair, frankly, comes from Sky News. Oh, the irony! If that bit of film looked any more like the doorstepping of somebody about to lose their job, it would have the following caption .
Which brings us to today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day. I wonder if Jezza is a fan of the Duranies? One hopes so because, frankly, at the moment he needs all the friends he can get.
Oh, and just in case he needs something else to cheer him up this morning, there's always this. I'm told he's a big fan of Swan Lake.

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