1:17pm Wednesday 25th April 2012
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Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has defended his conduct during News Corporation's takeover bid for BSkyB as he battled for his political life amid demands for his resignation over claims that he was a "cheerleader" for Rupert Murdoch's company.
In a hastily arranged statement to the House of Commons, Mr Hunt told MPs that he had handled the bid with "scrupulous fairness" and he was not influenced in any way by contacts with News Corp.
Prime Minister David Cameron - who met Hunt in private after Tuesday's release of a dossier of emails detailing links between his office and News Corp executives - told the Commons that the Culture Secretary had "my full support for the excellent job that he does".
But the row claimed its first scalp, as special adviser Adam Smith quit, admitting his contact with News Corp "went too far", and Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has called for Mr Hunt's resignation, said the affair has left "a shadow of sleaze" over the Government.
On Tuesday, a 163-page dossier released by the Leveson Inquiry into media standards revealed scores of emails from News Corp executive Frederic Michel detailing his contacts with Mr Hunt's office during the bid process.
Labour said the emails showed Mr Hunt acted as a "back-channel" for the Murdochs, passed secret information to News Corp, and misled Parliament over the extent of his contacts with the company at a time when he held a quasi-judicial responsibility for determining whether the bid should go ahead.
But Lord Justice Leveson has cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the documents, telling the inquiry: "I am acutely aware from considerable experience that documents such as these cannot always be taken at face value, and can frequently bear more than one interpretation."
Mr Hunt told the Commons it was "categorically not the case" that the emails were evidence that a back channel existed for News Corp to influence his decision.
"They did not influence my decision in any way," he told MPs, adding: "The volume and tone of these communications were clearly not appropriate in a quasi-judicial process and today Adam Smith has resigned as my special adviser.
"Although Adam Smith accepts that he overstepped the mark on this occasion, I want to say on record that I believe he did so unintentionally."
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