David Cameron insisted today there was no “grand deal” between himself and the Murdochs to wave through News Corporation’s takeover of BSkyB.
The UK Prime Minister admitted that some of his contacts with Rupert Murdoch’s media empire were embarrassing and that he might have done things differently.
But he maintained it was “not true” there was any agreement that in return for the Murdochs’ support of the British government he would help their business interests or allow the BSkyB merger to go through.
“It would be absolutely wrong for there to be any sort of deal and there wasn’t he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.
“There was no grand deal.”
Mr 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,” Mr Cameron said.
The Prime Minister admitted discussing matters with Mr Murdoch’s son and top News Corp executive James Murdoch at a Christmas party at the Oxfordshire home of then News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
Asked whether he was embarrassed that he was even at the party, Mr Cameron said: “Clearly, after all that’s been written and said about it, yes of course one might do things differently.”
Mr Cameron said he did not recall the exact details of his conversation with Mr 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, I recused myself from it,” he said.
Mr Cameron said it would be ``wrong'' to sack Mr Hunt because his special adviser Adam Smith - who quit on Wednesday as the row grew - had been ``too close'' to the Murdoch empire and ``acted inappropriately''.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that the contact between the special adviser in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and News International, that was too close, too frequent and that’s why there special adviser resigned, and that was the right thing to do,” said Mr Cameron.
But he added: “I don’t think it would be right in every circumstance if a special advisers gets something wrong to automatically sack the minister.”
The Prime Minister went onto back beleaguered Mr Hunt, saying: “He does a good job, I think he’s a good Culture, Media and Sport Secretary.
“I think he’s doing an excellent job on the Olympics and frankly I do think people deserve to have these things looked into properly.”
He called for “natural justice” to take its course so Mr Hunt could “explain his actions, all the information comes out”.
Mr Cameron admitted that he courted Murdoch newspapers in opposition, but said it was ``no great mystery'' as he had tried to win over many media outlets.
“The thing that people are asking is was there some big deal, some big agreement between me and Rupert Murdoch or James Murdoch that in return for support for the Conservative Party I would somehow help their business interests or allow this merger to go through,” he said.
“That is not true. Rupert Murdoch said it under oath at the Leveson Inquiry, James Murdoch said it under oath, I will say it under oath.
“I did want the support of as many newspapers and television commentators for the Conservative Party because I wanted to take the country in a different direction.
“When it comes to the Murdoch newspapers, I was trying to convince a set of newspapers with largely centre-right, conservative views anyway, that they would be better off with the Conservative Party running the country.
“There is no great mystery here – that is what I was trying to do.”