* Culture secretary denies favouring Murdoch in BSkyB bid
* Opposition want minister's conduct investigated
* PM Cameron says Leveson media inquiry must hear minister
By Tim Castle
LONDON, April 28 Prime Minister David Cameron
faced growing pressure on Saturday to launch a probe into the
conduct of a minister criticised over his handling of a Rupert
Murdoch television takeover bid, after a judge conducting a
parallel inquiry refused to intervene.
Cameron, enduring the worst crisis of his two years in power
as the economy stagnates, has given his full backing to culture
minister Jeremy Hunt, who was responsible for vetting media
baron Murdoch's bid to take control of Britain's biggest
satellite TV firm BSkyB.
Hunt, fighting for his political survival, has denied acting
improperly over the ultimately abandoned $12 billion offer after
emails published this week appeared to show his office had given
inside information on the government's decisions to a Murdoch
The affair threatens to hit Cameron's poll ratings in local
elections next week, following data that showed the economy was
back in recession and a series of political missteps including
an unpopular budget that cut taxes for the richest.
Cameron had said the BSkyB matter would be addressed when
Hunt, also responsible for the 2012 Olympic Games in London this
summer, appeared in the coming weeks at a separate judge-led
inquiry into the media.
But that avenue was closed late on Friday when the
inquiry's judge Brian Leveson refused to bring forward Hunt's
appearance as a witness and an inquiry source said Leveson could
not rule on whether Hunt had broken a ministerial code of
conduct as that was beyond the judge's remit.
The opposition Labour party said Cameron was looking weak
and evasive by not referring Hunt to a special adviser tasked
with examining failures of ministerial behaviour. Only the prime
minister can make such a referral.
"He must now refer this matter ... the longer the prime
minister resists this, the more people will conclude he has
something to hide," said Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Cameron's office said on Saturday the prime minister might
eventually refer Hunt over his conduct, while insisting that
Leveson's inquiry must examine him first.
"It does not make sense to cut across a judicial inquiry
with a parallel process that would risk pre-empting, duplicating
or contradicting it.
"Once Jeremy Hunt's evidence is made public and he is
questioned, if there is anything that suggests there has been a
breach of the code the prime minister would of course act,"
Cameron's office said.
Hunt had asked Leveson to bring forward his appearance at
the inquiry to allow him to rebut claims he had improperly
favoured Murdoch's News Corp over the BSkyB bid.
Conservative party deputy chairman Michael Fallon said Hunt
needed the chance to defend himself at the inquiry, which
released the emails sent between PR executive Frederic Michel
and Hunt's political adviser Adam Smith, after hearing testimony
from Murdoch's son James.
"We have only had one side of the story from Murdoch's PR
man," Fallon told BBC TV.
News Corp withdrew its bid for BSkyB in July following
public outrage over the disclosure that journalists from
Murdoch's News of the World tabloid had hacked the phone of a
The ensuing phone hacking scandal prompted searching
questions over the close relationship between police,
politicians and Murdoch's British newspapers, leading to the
establishment of Leveson's inquiry.
Hunt says he had acted with "scrupulous fairness" during the
BSkyB bid and has promised to pass to the Leveson inquiry all
communications between himself and his political adviser.
The adviser quit on Wednesday over the email disclosures,
saying he had been acting without Hunt's authorisation in his
exchanges with the Murdoch lobbyist.
But opponents say Hunt remains vulnerable as the ministerial
code says ministers are also responsible for the actions of the
advisers they appoint.