LONDON - News Corp. executive James Murdoch's behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign spilled out into the public domain Tuesday, casting a harsh light on the British government's Olympics czar.
Murdoch was speaking before the media-ethics inquiry set up in the aftermath of the country's phone-hacking scandal, which has shaken the British establishment with revelations of journalistic misdeeds, police corruption, and corporate malpractice.
Some of Murdoch's testimony revisited his own role in the scandal, but far more explosive were revelations about how senior British ministers went out of their way to smooth the path for one of his biggest-ever business deals.
Particularly damning was correspondence showing how Olympics czar Jeremy Hunt secretly backed Murdoch's multibillion-dollar bid for full control of satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting Group P.L.C. As the minister charged with deciding whether to refer the takeover deal to Britain's competition authority, Hunt was meant to have been neutral.
"I am approaching the decision with total impartiality and following strict due process," Hunt told lawmakers in January 2011. But a cache of text messages and e-mails published by Lord Justice Brian Leveson's inquiry Tuesday suggested that Hunt was fighting on Murdoch's side the whole time.
"He said we would get there at the end, and he shared our objectives," was how an e-mail from News Corp. lobbyist Frederic Michel described Hunt's attitude.
Other e-mails appeared to capture Hunt's office providing Murdoch with sensitive intelligence on his political opponents and offering advice on how best to present his bid.
Later Tuesday, Hunt issued a statement saying that some of the evidence "reported meetings and conversations that simply didn't happen." He said he has asked to move forward his appearance at the Leveson inquiry so he can present his side of the story.
Murdoch was eventually forced to drop the proposed deal following the eruption of Britain's phone-hacking scandal in July, but the e-mails could be still be damaging.
Prime Minister David Cameron expressed confidence in Hunt, but within minutes of Murdoch's testimony, opposition politicians were calling on the Olympics chief to step down.