Prime Minister gives full support to Culture Secretary over News Corporation allegations
Wednesday, 25 April 2012
April 25 - British Prime Minister David Cameron has unequivocally backed Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, despite calls to fire him over allegations of secret deals with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation during their bid to take over BSkyB.
Revelations have surfaced this week in the Leveson Inquiry that Hunt's Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) office were colluding with News Corporation to ensure they were successful in their bid for BSkyB.
The removal of the Culture Secretary, the highest Government official directly involved in the Games, would have major ramifications for London 2012 given that the Olympics are now less than 100 days away but Cameron has backed Hunt and said he will be able to fully justify his actions.
"Let me be absolutely clear about the Culture Secretary, who has my full support for the excellent job that he does," Cameron (pictured above, centre) told MPs during Prime Minister's Questions.
"The Culture Secretary will be giving a full account of himself in front of the Leveson Inquiry, and he will give a very good account of himself for this very simple reason: that in judging this important bid, the Culture Secretary sought independent advice from independent regulators at every stage – although he did not need to."
The Labour leader Ed Miliband said that Cameron's defence of Hunt "beggars belief" and that the Culture Secretary must be made to leave his high profile position immediately.
"It beggars belief that the Prime Minister can defend the Culture Secretary," insisted Miliband.
"He was not judging his bid – he was helping the bid on behalf of News Corp.
"It's a pattern with this Prime Minister: Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks and now the Culture Secretary.
"When is he going to realise it's time to stop putting his cronies before the interests of the country?"
In a damage limitation move, Adam Smith (pictured above, centre), the special adviser to Hunt, resigned today and released a statement saying he acted without the authority of the Culture Secretary over the incident.
"While it was part of my role to keep News Corporation informed throughout the BSkyB bid process, the content and extent of my contact was done without authorisation from the Secretary of State," said Smith.
"I appreciate that my activities at times went too far and have, taken together, created the perception that News Corporation had too close a relationship with the department, contrary to the clear requirements set out by Jeremy Hunt and the permanent secretary that this needed to be a fair and scrupulous process.
"Whilst I firmly believe that the process was in fact conducted scrupulously fairly, as a result of my activities it is only right for me to step down as special adviser to Jeremy Hunt."
Hunt accepted the resignation, but still gave his backing to Smith.
"The volume and tone of these communications were clearly not appropriate in a quasi-judicial process and today Adam Smith has resigned as my special adviser," he said.
"Although Adam Smith accepts that he overstepped the mark on this occasion, I want to say on record that I believe he did so unintentionally."
Hunt (pictured) also believes he will be able to explain his actions when he gives evidence to the Leveson Inquiry to set out in full his version of events.
"I am going to be making a very, very determined effort to show that I behaved with total integrity, and conducted this process scrupulously fairly," he said.
It is a dramatic turn of events for Hunt, who just last week was sitting happily alongside London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe, chief executive Paul Deighton and his Sport and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson at Kew Gardens in Surrey to celebrate 100 days to go to the Olympic Games.
Hunt is also set to attend a key Games event tomorrow morning when the London 2012 Festival programme is launched in the capital but he is set to be under far more scrutiny than he was during his breezy outing in Surrey last week.