The government has rejected a complaint that the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is not a “fit and proper person” to rule on News Corporation’s proposed merger with BSkyB.
Hunt has made favourable comments about the deal in the past, prompting shadow business secretary John Denham to question his impartiality.
But after taking “advice from lawyers”, cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, Britain’s most senior civil servant, said such worries were unfounded.
Hunt has taken the responsibility for the decision – on whether to allow News Corp to purchase the 61 per cent of BSkyB shares it doesn’t already own – after Vince Cable’s “war on Murdoch” blunder.
O’Donnel said he was aware of comments Hunt made to the Financial Times earlier this year, when he said: “It does seem to me that News Corp do control Sky already, so it isn’t clear to me that in terms of media plurality there is a substantive change, but I don’t want to second guess what regulators might decide.”
Denham said he still disagreed with O’Donnell: “I have to say there is an issue here about public confidence. It is not just a question of ensuring decisions are taken properly but also making sure that they are seen to be taken properly.
“The cabinet secretary’s letter makes clear that there was so much doubt about Jeremy Hunt’s suitability for this role that they were forced to consult top lawyers yesterday. It is very hard to see how any decision Jeremy Hunt makes will enjoy complete confidence.”
The majority of the media industry has petitioned the government to block the bid on plurality grounds. (Source: MediaGuardian)