Ex-aide 'said bid would go ahead'

Asian Image: Adam Smith, former special adviser to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, arrives at the Leveson Inquiry (AP) Adam Smith, former special adviser to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, arrives at the Leveson Inquiry (AP)

Jeremy Hunt's former special adviser told a News Corporation lobbyist that the media giant's BSkyB takeover bid would go ahead once plans to spin off Sky News were accepted, the Leveson Inquiry heard.

But Adam Smith said he did not remember telling Fred Michel it would be "game over" for opponents of the buyout after the proposal to make the news channel a separately listed company was announced.

At the time other media groups criticised News Corp's intention to buy the 61% share of BSkyB it did not already own, alleging it would concentrate too much power in Rupert Murdoch's hands.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron defended giving Mr Hunt responsibility for the decision on News Corporation's takeover of BSkyB. The Culture Secretary sent a memo to the Prime Minister arguing the case for the bid just weeks before being given the role but Mr Cameron insisted he acted "impartially" once he was responsible for the decision.

Mr Cameron told ITV's This Morning: "I don't regret giving the job to Jeremy Hunt, it was the right thing to do in the circumstances, which were not of my making."

Mr Michel, News Corp's former director of public affairs in Europe, sent an email to fellow executives on January 23 last year based on a conversation with Mr Smith.

He wrote: "His (Mr Hunt's) view is that once he announces publicly he has a strong UIL (undertaking in lieu, namely the Sky News spin-off plans), it's almost game over for the opposition."

Mr Smith, who quit as Mr Hunt's special adviser last month after admitting he got too close to Mr Michel, said much of the lobbyist's email was factually accurate but disputed its tone.

He told the inquiry: "I think that that's a sort of colourful explanation of the process. If you have an undertaking in lieu that Ofcom (the broadcasting regulator) and the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) say satisfied the plurality concerns that Ofcom had identified, then the whole point of that is that then there are no plurality concerns. So the deal would go ahead.

"I don't remember saying 'game over for the opposition', but I can imagine we had a conversation along those lines about the process and talking around what happens."

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