James Murdoch told an inquiry into U.K. media ethics that he discussed News Corp.’s proposed takeover of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc (BSY) with Prime Minister David Cameron at a private Christmas dinner in 2010.
The “tiny side conversation” took place two days after Cameron had removed responsibility for deciding whether to allow the takeover from Business Secretary Vince Cable, Murdoch said in London today. Cable had been recorded by undercover journalists saying he had “declared war” with the Murdoch family.
“There was no discussion with Mr. Cameron other than to reiterate what we’d said publicly,” Murdoch said of the Dec. 23 dinner, hosted by former News Corp. executive Rebekah Brooks. “I imagine I expressed a hope that things would be dealt with in a way that was appropriate and judicial. He reiterated what he’d said publicly. It was a tiny side conversation at a dinner where other people where there. It wasn’t really a discussion.”
Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer of News Corp. (NWSA), and his father, Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch, are testifying over three days this week at the Leveson Inquiry. The panel was set up by Cameron to help quell public outrage over the phone-hacking scandal, which has led to 45 arrests and the closing of the best-selling News of the World tabloid.
During an emergency debate in Parliament on the media on July 20, Cameron repeatedly refused to say whether he had discussed the BSkyB bid with News Corp. executives, insisting he “never had one inappropriate conversation.”
Murdoch said the company had decided not to announce the bid until after the May 2010 general election, so that “the transaction didn’t become a political football.”
He denied the support of News Corp.’s Sun tabloid had been given to the Conservatives in that election in return for the party’s support for the takeover. “I would never make such a crass calculation,” he said.
Murdoch said he’d discussed the takeover with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was given responsibility for deciding on it after it was taken from Cable. He said he might have discussed it with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, with whom he is “friendly.”
The bid was dropped in July after the phone-hacking scandal broke.
Cameron’s spokesman declined to comment on James Murdoch’s testimony. The premier’s position on the BSkyB takeover bid “was covered by previous statements by the PM,” Steve Field told reporters in London today. “He did not involve himself in that issue.”