The BSkyB takeover emails
- 25 April 2012
- From the section UK
Emails detailing a senior News Corporation executive's contacts with the government during the company's bid to take over BSkyB have been released - leading to calls for the resignation of the culture secretary. Below are some of the details.
The 163-page dossier contains emails sent by News Corp's senior vice-president of government affairs and public policy, Europe, Frederic Michel.
They repeatedly refer to contacts with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, often identifying him as "JH".
Mr Michel said the initials were shorthand for contact with Mr Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith, rather than referring to the minister himself.
Mr Hunt took over responsibility for overseeing the BSkyB bid in December 2010 after Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of the role, having been secretly recorded by the Daily Telegraph newspaper saying he had "declared war" on News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch.
NEWS CORP EMAILS REVEAL RELATIONS WITH HUNT
In a June 2010 message, Mr Michel recounts a call from an adviser to Mr Hunt - who had no responsibility for the BSkyB takeover at that stage - saying the Culture Secretary "believed the UK government would be supportive throughout the process".
On the same day, he described a "Vince Cable call" that "went very well", adding: "We should have recorded him!"
In September 2010, after a blog post by BBC business editor Robert Peston suggesting that Mr Cable would refer the decision to Ofcom, Mr Michel emails News Corporation executives to say: "Jeremy Hunt is not aware and thinks it's not credible at all. He is checking now."
On 5 October 2010, Mr Michel describes how "Rebekah and I had a very useful meeting with Jeremy Hunt today on the bid".
In an email sent on 15 November 2010, Mr Michel told Mr Murdoch "Jeremy" had tried to call him but had received "very strong legal advice not to meet us today as the current process is treated as a judicial one".
"My advice would be not to meet him today as it would be counter-productive for everyone, but you could have a chat with him on his mobile which is completely fine, and I will liaise with his team privately as well," he wrote.
The contacts intensified after Mr Cable was stripped of his responsibilities for the bid.
On 9 January 2011, Mr Michel sent a text to Mr Smith stating: "Bad news from Ofcom. We need to talk."
That evening Mr Michel sent an email to Mr Murdoch stating: "I have managed to get JH quickly before he went in to see Swan Lake... and have further chat."
The following day Mr Michel sent an email to News Corp executives headed "Re: Spoke to Hunt", which refers to a conversation between the culture secretary and the head of Ofcom Ed Richards.
"He made again a plea to try to find as many legal errors as we can in the Ofcom report and propose some strong and 'impactful' remedies," Mr Michel said.
"He is keen to meet next Tuesday or Wednesday to discuss our submission."
On 23 January, Mr Michel wrote to News Corp executives, stating: "His view is that once he announces publicly he has a strong UIL (an undertaking in lieu from News Corp), it's almost game over for the opposition."
On 24 January, the day before Mr Hunt made a written statement to Parliament Mr Michel wrote to Mr Murdoch that he had "managed to get" some information on Mr Hunt's statement on the BSkyB bid to the House due the next day "although absolutely illegal..>!".
However, Mr Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry that the reference had been a "joke".
"I think the greater than and the exclamation point there are a wink - it's a joke," he said.
Mr Murdoch also told the inquiry he expected Mr Hunt's advisers were also talking to other interested parties about the proposed takeover.
The day of the statement setting out the way forward on the BSkyB bid - 25 January - was marked by a flurry of emails.
In one email of that day, Mr Smith wrote to Mr Michel stating: "There's plenty potential to mitigate problems! We can't say they are too brilliant otherwise people will call for them to be published. Will check on meetings."
Mr Michel then wrote to Mr Murdoch: "JH just said there was plenty of support for the remedy in the statement - 'potential to mitigate problems'... he can't say they are too brilliant otherwise people will call for them to be published."
Mr Smith then sent a further email to Mr Michel saying: "Other than what jeremy and I have told you! We have no legal wriggle room in a statement to parliament."
Mr Michel emailed Mr Murdoch: "Just had a chat with JH... he said he had no legal wriggle room in a statement to Parliament; that's it all exactly as he said yesterday and he oniy needs some space to prevent any accusation of dealmaking at this stage."
That night Mr Michel wrote to Mr Smith: "I think we're in a good place tonight no?" Mr Smith replied: "I agree. Coverage looks ok. Let's look again in the morning though!"
On 4 February, Mr Smith appeared to offer to show Mr Michel confidential documents relating to the bid, warning him not to let the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) know.
Mr Michel emailed Mr Smith asking: "Are you able to send me the... docs? Wd help me prepare for the public debate. Enjoy golf."
Mr Smith replied: "I haven't actually got them at the moment. Officials just told me about them. Don't mention them to anyone like oft etc. if we need them I'll show you."
On 9 February, Mr Smith wrote again, joking: "Take your stab proof vest with you! Am hoping for an update later on process so will let you know if anything new."
Two days later Mr Michel reported that he had received details of the submissions Mr Hunt was expecting to receive from Ofcom and the OFT.
He wrote: "JH called: he now knows what Ofcom and OFT will send him tonight: both will recommend he refers to CC [Competition Commission].
"JH doesn't want this to go to the CC. He also said his officials don't want this to go further as JH believes it would kill the deal."
On 24 February, Mr Smith warned Mr Michel that the government would have to follow Ofcom's advice.
He added however: "We can't interfere with the process really. We can give more time but not deal with substance whilst they are working with you."
Mr Michel emailed Mr Murdoch: "JH just texted that he can't interfere with the process but can give us more time to sort things out. He can't engage with substance whilst Ofcom is working with us."
On 31 March, Mr Michel said he had "just spoke to JH", who apparently told him there were "absolutely no issues of substance in the submissions and he is now looking at clearing it asap".
He said he was also told about a meeting between Mr Hunt with "the media coalition" of news organisations opposed to the bid.
"In a nutshell: they looked miserable, were making competition arguments and know they have lost the battle," he said.
On 2 June, Mr Smith told Mr Michel: "Over the last few days i hve been causing a lot of chaos and moaning from people here on your behalf. I should have an update later today."
The following day, less than a month before the government said it was ready to give the deal clearance, Mr Michel said he had been assured that Mr Hunt was "politically very keen to get this done as quickly as possible and understands the potential impact this will have on the share price".
Asked by counsel for the inquiry Robert Jay QC about the nature of Mr Michel's job, Mr Murdoch said it was "to engage with special advisers and at a political level with Westminster, to put it broadly. That's what a public affairs executive does".