Who would be Jeremy Hunt today? Not me for a start.
The recent phone hacking scandal that has brought the News of the World to its knees could be the Culture Secretary’s saving grace on News Corp’s BSkyB takeover bid.
In light of some quite shocking headlines regarding the News of the World’s quite scandalous behaviour in hacking the voicemails of murder victim Milly Dowler, as well as families of the victims of the July 7th London bombings, and with a horrible feeling of more to come, the Culture Secretary must be secretly relieved that the vast number of submissions arguing against the proposed takeover of BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire, News Corporation, the parent company of News International, who are at the centre of these sordid allegations, will delay his decision.
If Hunt allowed the takeover to go through now, he would face a challenge to his political career that he may not win. Since the allegations were broken by The Guardian this week, it is fair to say that the people of Britain are angry that newspapers would so brazenly cross a line of privacy and decency.
Many, correctly, associate papers such as The Sun and The News of the World with being under the control of Murdoch and the call to OFCOM and Hunt to delay the process of the takeover – or cancel it altogether – have many more voices added to it.
Prime Minister David Cameron, is renowned for removing his support quicker than Wile Coyote runs out of cliff edge chasing the road runner. Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove could testify to that.
Cameron’s decision to agree to an independent inquiry on the hacking will dictate Hunt’s position, especially as the Prime Minister appears to be involved in this story deeper than he would like. His friendship with Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of NI and the editor who presided over this culture of phone hacking – though she maintains she had no knowledge – has been well documented, as has the huge error judgment to appoint her former deputy Andy Coulson as his spin doctor.
To recap, News Corp’s takeover bid for BSkyB was approved by Hunt at the end of June, which came as no surprise after the Business Secretary Vince Cable saw his one-man war against Murdoch stopped abruptly due to some ill-timed boasting and the decision was given to the Culture Secretary.
While Hunt has not formally delayed the process and spoke openly yesterday that the phone hacking is a separate issue, the 100, 000 submissions – most of which are against the takeover – will make for comfortable reading for him.
It means simply that he can wait until September before he makes his decision, which by then the inquiry into the phone hacking could be over and the whole thing could have gone away.
Hunt faces the biggest challenge of his career in government to date – it’s a case of who does he annoy the least? Those who are against News Corps becoming the most powerful media outlet in the UK or anger Murdoch, a man many politicians owe their position to.
But now with the death knell of the NOTW sounded by James Murdoch, the edge may have been taken off people’s anger – anger that has turned to sorrow for the many hundreds of good, innocent journalists (an oxymoron in some people's eyes) who could lose their jobs.
In this light, Hunt’s decision may be taken out of his hands if News Corps continue this line of instant re-evaluation of their role and possibly pull out of the takeover. The next eight weeks will be interesting, to say the least.
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