Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is under severe pressure to relinquish his Cabinet role following James Murdoch’s Leveson Inquiry declaration that the Tory politician’s special advisor was in sustained and supportive discussion with News Corporation during its bid to take full control of BSkyB.
Rupert Murdoch, giving evidence today, has denied having contact with Hunt or his son James in the bid negotiations. Critics, on the other hand, refer to a Hunt-Murdoch collusion in which the Culture Secretary acted as cheer-leader (rather than impartial judge sitting on an independent panel) for News Corp’s business dealings.
The Hunt-Murdoch friendship is well-established - I blogged about it over 15 months ago. But current developments, going on under oath in the context of the long-running Leveson Inquiry into media ethics and press standards, are unfolding slowly and tactfully. Neither father nor son want to give too much away. Indeed, James Murdoch has already given too much away and placed Hunt’s career – a career desperately wishing to climb the glorious pinnacle of overseeing the London Olympics – in jeopardy.
But should he resign now? Or should Cameron sack him? Of course, the wider issue is about the relationship between politicians and multinational media corporations – and what constitutes a healthy relationship. The BBC avoids this dilemma because it is, essentially, a state-sanctioned and quasi-public media provider. The BBC is very much in a relationship with politicians and the fact that its Director-General is regularly party to discussions with government officials is par for the course.
Yet when a commercial provider like BSkyB is seen to be party to politics? Now we (i.e. the rest of the media world) bring a different agenda – wrapped in the language of collusion and corruption as opposed to the language of public service (servicing government information and interests).
So no, Hunt should not be forced to resign over what is a foregone conclusion in the wider scheme of things – the fact that politicians and the media, in all democracies that pretend to espouse freedom, have always fed each other’s hands. Unethical practices are the norm, not the exception.
Instead of making a scapegoat out of one or two individuals, what the Leveson Inquiry needs to do is propose an alternative model of politics and its relationship with the media/the public interest. Such a radical portfolio is highly unlikely and, in any case, could not be done justice under the confines of the Royal Courts of Justice and the current constitution – a constitution whose law is the heart of the problem, not the solution.