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Top U.K. Culture Official Refuses to Discuss News Corp. Contacts

The most senior civil servant in Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s department refused to tell lawmakers if he’d authorized Hunt’s adviser, who quit yesterday over his contacts with News Corp., to talk to the company.

Under repeated questioning, Jonathan Stephens said he wouldn’t add to or comment on Hunt’s statement that he had given the green light to Adam Smith, a political appointee, to be the point of contact for News Corp. as Hunt considered its bid for the remainder of British Sky Broadcasting Plc.

Smith resigned after e-mails were published showing News Corp. had advance knowledge of Hunt’s decisions. Hunt, fighting calls for his resignation, told lawmakers he hadn’t known the extent of Smith’s contacts with a News Corp. lobbyist.

“It seemed to me extremely odd to be told that you had agreed as permanent secretary to enable a special adviser to act as a channel of communications,” Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge told Stephens. “Is that true?”

“The secretary of state made a full statement to Parliament yesterday,” said Stephens, who was appearing before the panel to give evidence on the Olympics.

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