Britain’s culture minister faced fresh pressure Saturday after a press ethics inquiry released dozens of light-hearted text messages between him and a lobbyist for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, whom he called “mon ami” and “papa”.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt exchanged the friendly and intimate messages with News Corporation’s Fred Michel during the period of a controversial attempt by the Murdoch firm to take over lucrative satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
The bid was abandoned in July 2011 amid the phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid, but Hunt has since faced claims he was too close to the firm when it was his job to decide if the bid should go ahead.
In a December 2010 message, one of 67 disclosed Friday, Hunt assured Michel — then European director of public affairs for Rupert Murdoch’s media empire — there was “nothing u won’t like” in an upcoming speech.
The pair exchanged joking messages about fatherhood after the wives of both men gave birth to children in May 2010. On June 21, Hunt texted the lobbyist: “Baby fine just changed his nappy lucky daddy!”
Michel sent Hunt flattering messages about his public appearances, writing in one text on July 25 2010 that the minister had been “full of energy and purpose” on a television show.
“Liked your answer on Rupert and on BBC!” he added.
Hunt responded: “Merci mon ami (Thank you my friend).”
Earlier that month Michel, who is French, praised Hunt for a “great announcement”, to which the Minister replied: “Merci papa (Thank you daddy).”
Hunt proposed meeting for a drink with Michel to celebrate fatherhood, saying he would ask his special adviser Adam Smith — who has since quit over leaks of information to News Corp. — to arrange it.
The Leveson inquiry into press ethics heard Thursday that Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Hunt to decide on the BSkyB bid in what was meant to be an impartial role, despite knowing he already backed the deal.
Cameron has rejected calls to sack Hunt over his department’s News Corporation links and said he should have a chance to testify before the press ethics inquiry, which he is due to do on Thursday.
The inquiry, led by senior judge Brian Leveson, was set up by Cameron last year to examine the culture, practice and ethics of the British press following the exposure of phone hacking at Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World.
More than 40 people have been arrested in a police investigation into phone hacking and a linked probe into inappropriate payments to public officials.