LONDON May 21 Britain's beleaguered media
minister Jeremy Hunt, under fire over his contacts with Rupert
Murdoch's News Corp, came under renewed pressure on
Monday after a parliamentary watchdog said it would investigate
allegations he had failed to declare donations from media firms.
Labour has already called for his resignation amid
allegations he was too close to News Corp as he deliberated
whether to allow it to buy the portion of pay TV group BSkyB
it does not already own.
The donations were the cost of "networking events" at which
media i ndustry leaders were able to meet politicians. They were
ma de while the Conservatives were in opposition before the May
2010 election and amount to some 27,000 pounds.
The sponsoring companies included BSkyB, according to
entries that Hunt's departmental colleague Ed Vaizey listed in
the register of MPs' financial interests.
Vaizey declared in the register that nine events between May
2009 and March 2010 were to "enable the Conservative frontbench
team (Vaizey and Hunt) to meet sector leaders from the arts and
However, corresponding entries declaring the meetings were
not made under Hunt's name.
A spokeswoman for Hunt said he had only attended three of
the events, hosted by advertising firm M&C Saatchi, a media club
and a digital radio lobby. She said the ommission had occurred
because of an administrative error and that Hunt had now entered
them in the register.
The office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
said it had initiated an inquiry, following a complaint by a
Hunt, a rising star in the Conservative Party, has resisted
calls to step down in recent weeks but pressure on him to go is
likely to mount when he makes a scheduled appearance at an
inquiry into media ethics in coming weeks.
Correspondence between his office and News Corp appeared to
reveal leaks of confidential information to the media
conglomerate, and appeared to show that Hunt's office was an
enthusiastic supporter of the BSkyB deal.
The minister was meant to be an impartial judge on the
deal's impact on British media plurality, a key factor in
deciding whether it should go through. Murdoch already owns
several British newspapers, in addition to his stake in BSkyB.
Hunt has denied any allegations of impropriety.
Adam Smith, Hunt's special adviser, has resigned over the
issue, and is also due to give evidence to the inquiry soon.
The wide-ranging Leveson inquiry has taken testimony from
several high-profile witnesses about the relationship between
the press and the public, politicians and the police.
(Additional reporting by Tim Castle)