by Cora Currier ProPublica
In front of a British government panel today, Rupert Murdoch denied that he tried to wield political influence or use his media holdings to further the business interests of News Corp.
“I take particular pride in the fact that we’ve never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers,” Murdoch said at the media ethics inquiry brought on by the phone-hacking scandal at News of the World last year.
He was responding to questions about contacts between News Corp. and government officials in connection with the company’s attempted $12 billion takeover of BSkyB, Britain’s top satellite TV network.
But email messages released Tuesday indicate that News Corp. executives at least considered dispatching top editors of The Wall Street Journal Europe and The Times of London, both News Corp. holdings, to advocate the BSkyB deal.
The newly released emails, totaling 163 pages, were exchanged among News Corp. chief lobbyist Frédéric Michel, company officials and government aides. Several refer to Lord Matthew Oakeshott, a member of Parliament whom News Corp. perceived as key to influencing Vince Cable, the government minister who had the authority in the fall of 2010 to approve the BSkyB deal.
News Corp. execs were worried that Oakeshott wouldn’t be receptive to their overtures. In one email to James Murdoch’s aide, Matthew Anderson, and Rebekah Brooks, chief executive at News International, Michel described Oakeshott as “a difficult character [who] hates lobbying (and doesn’t like our empire either…).”
So Michel, the lobbyist, suggested that they arrange a meeting between Oakeshott and James Harding, editor in chief of The Times. From the email, dated Oct. 12, 2010:
It was suggested that we should try a very soft approach with him; get him meet with James Harding to get his views on some of BIS key items, like migration cap; and get me to pop in at some stage to give him an update on the current battle we face and inform his views. It would be a much better setting than a direct lobbying conversation. Do we think it’s ok?
On Oct. 18, Michel wrote that Oakeshott would also be “VERY receptive” to a message from Patience Wheatcroft, then the editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe:
Lord Oakeshot said he would be VERY receptive to a message from Patience on this: Matthew can we discuss asap?
That November, Wheatcroft left The Journal after she was named to the House of Lords as a member of the Conservative party, by Prime Minister David Cameron.