Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt  is frequently referred to in News Corp e-mails.

Editor’s Note: Des Freedman is a reader in communications and cultural studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, and author of “The Politics of Media Policy.”

Story highlights

The Leveson inquiry into News Corp revealed some stunning e-mails, says Des Freedman

Freedman: E-mails show a minister working with company officials to support a takeover

He says this was a sign of consensus between company and government

Freedman: Jeremy Hunt, as a member of U.K. government, wasn't acting on behalf of public

CNN  — 

The e-mails from Frédéric Michel, News Corp’s chief lobbyist in Europe, to James Murdoch, a key figure in the News Corp empire, about the company’s bid in 2011 to take full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB are staggering.

Revealed during questioning of James Murdoch at the Leveson Inquiry, the ongoing commission into the ethics and practices of the press that was set up after the phone hacking scandal of July 2011, they demonstrate less an efficient lobbying operation than the systematic incorporation of a government department into the everyday operations of the corporate world.

They will add to the pressure on Rupert Murdoch just as he faces the prospect of investigations into alleged hacking in the United States, although the more immediate threat is to the reputation of David Cameron’s government.

Des Freedman

The 161 pages of correspondence completely blow apart the notion that there was a genuinely impartial judicial process to consider the competition issues raised by the takeover.

As Michel put it on 23 January 2011, after the unwanted intervention of the British communications regulator Ofcom, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, the minister charged with overseeing the inquiry, “said we would get there at the end and he shared our objectives.”

The correspondence is littered with statements of News Corp lobbyists “taking JH (Jeremy Hunt) through the agenda” (5 May), of running the culture secretary “through our key arguments” (23 March) and of sympathy for the effort Hunt was making on their behalf: “He can only use his officials to put pressure at this stage” (24 February).

According to Michel, Hunt was “very frustrated” that he received “strong legal advice” not to meet with James Murdoch to talk about the bid. Indeed, he was warned on 15 November 2010 “not to meet with JM”. Which is strange as Murdoch’s written statement to Leveson reveals that he spoke with Hunt on 15 November and 21 December 2010 and then met with Hunt and other DCMS officials on 6 and 20 January 2011.

Indeed, there were times when News Corp staff were on the phone so frequently to Culture Department staff that they may as well have moved into their offices. In a curious understanding of balance, groups opposed to the deal were afforded one single meeting with Hunt.

Was this an example of government ministers being bullied by a powerful media corporation? Not exactly, given that on 23 November, before Hunt was even formally responsible for the takeover, Michel wrote to James Murdoch stating that “Jeremy [Hunt] has…asked me to send him relevant documents privately.”

A month later, on 24 December, Michel then reports to Murdoch that JH “was very happy for me to be the point of contact with him/Adam [Smith, his special adviser] on behalf of JRM [James Murdoch] going forward.” Back from his holidays, Hunt then asks Michel on 10 January to “find as many legal errors as we can in the Ofcom report,” a request that seriously compromises the independence of the minister.

This complicity, the shared pursuit of a happy ending, is such that Hunt even asks the News Corp lobbyist to help him draft a crucial parliamentary statement on the issue.

On 23 January 2011, Michel says that Hunt “is keen for me to work with his team on the statement during the course of tomorrow and offer some possible language.”

“Offering” possible language in this context means that News Corp lobbyists would have effectively written key parts of the minister’s speech. In return, Michel boasts the next day that “[I’ve] managed to get infos on the plans for tomorrow [although absolutely illegal..>!]”. Tongue-in-cheek or simply confident that such transactions would never comes to light?

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has followed not simply the revelations of the Leveson Inquiry but the everyday concessions offered by corporate-friendly governments at the behest of big business. This is not about pressure but consensus, about the desirability shared by media and political elites of maximizing the free flow of market forces through all areas of social life.

James Murdoch and Jeremy Hunt, in their absolute commitment to the enrichment of the private sector, should be seen as soulmates. The former famously asserted back in 2009 that “the only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit” and has long called for a “bonfire of regulations” in relation to the broadcast sector.

Hunt is just as eager for deregulation, promising, when shadow culture secretary back in 2009, to “strip away the regulations [in the media] in the same way that [the] Big Bang revolutionized the City to make it the major financial center of the world.” Indeed, he even dismissed as “absolute nonsense” accusations that the Conservatives were in hock to News Corp in return for the backing of the best-selling tabloid newspaper, the Sun, ahead of the 2010 election. Any suggestions of collusion between the Tories and News Corp were, he insisted, “completely wrong and totally improper.” Who will believe him now?

The government will dismiss the e-mails as products of a lobbyist’s overheated ego and will say that this level of interaction is only to be expected for such an important transaction. For the rest of us, however, we should not be surprised but we should be angry.

A government hell-bent on making ordinary people pay for a crisis caused by financial elites has been seen to be in cahoots with a media organization that has a long record of celebrating the debt-fueled consumer boom that so badly went wrong.

Back when he first took the job of culture secretary in 2010, Hunt told the Guardian newspaper that he hoped “to do this job for five years.” That seems increasingly unlikely to happen but the bigger question is who was he actually working for, the government or Mr. Murdoch, and is it possible any longer to tell the difference?

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Des Freedman.