Cameron discussed BSkyB with Murdoch

British prime minister David Cameron has admitted that he discussed News Corporation’s takeover bid for BSkyB with James Murdoch while the government was deciding whether to approve it.

Cameron acknowledged his embarrassment at attending a party thrown by then News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks — where the conversation took place — and hinted that he regretted doing so in retrospect.

But he insisted there had been no “grand deal” with Rupert Murdoch’s media empire to wave through the takeover in return for support from News International newspapers.

“It would be absolutely wrong for there to be any sort of deal and there wasn’t,” he said. “There was no grand deal.”

The prime minister admitted discussing BSkyB with senior News Corp executive James Murdoch at a Christmas 2010 dinner at the Oxfordshire home of Brooks.

Asked whether he was embarrassed that he was even at the party, Cameron said: “Clearly, after all that’s been written and said about it, yes, of course, one might do things differently.”

The prime minister said he did not recall the exact details of his conversation with Murdoch but that it concerned the recent controversy over Business Secretary Vince Cable’s comments that he had “declared war” on News Corporation.

“What I recall saying, although I can’t remember every detail of the conversation, is saying something like: clearly that was unacceptable, it was embarrassing for the government, and to be clear from now on this whole issue would be dealt with impartially, properly, in the correct way, but obviously I had nothing to do with it,” he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

Cameron offered qualified support for his under-fire culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who is facing calls for his resignation over his handling of the BSkyB deal.

“As things stand, I don’t believe Jeremy Hunt broke the ministerial code,” Cameron said. However, he added that he could yet order an independent investigation after the culture secretary has given evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.

Cameron has been resisting demands to call in his independent adviser on ministerial interests, Alex Allan, arguing the issue should be left to Lord Justice Leveson.

“If evidence comes out through this exhaustive inquiry where you’re giving evidence under oath — if he did breach the ministerial code – than clearly that’s a different issue and I would act,” he said.

The prime minister said Hunt’s special adviser, Adam Smith, had been right to resign over his contacts with News Corporation lobbyist Frederic Michel, which were “too close, too frequent”.

But he added: “I don’t think it would be right in every circumstance if a special adviser gets something wrong to automatically sack the minister.”

The prime minister admitted yesterday he courted Murdoch’s newspapers in opposition, but said it was “no great mystery” as he had tried to win over many media outlets.

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