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British chancellor Osborne dismisses BSkyB 'conspiracies'

posted 11 Jun 2012, 10:45 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 11 Jun 2012, 10:46 ]

Osborne tells Leveson inquiry that he saw BSkyB deal as no more than a 'political inconvenience' and dismisses claims of a 'vast conspiracy'.

British finance minister George Osborne dismissed 'conspiracy' claims as he was quizzed in front of the Leveson inquiry into press ethics on Monday (June 11).
Osborne seemed calm and well-prepared as he faced the high-profile inquiry, where he was questioned on whether he and Prime Minister David Cameron bent government policy to support media baron Rupert Murdoch.

One aspect that has become central to the inquiry is how Cameron's government handled a $12 billion bid by Murdoch's News Corp to buy the rest of the lucrative pay-TV group BSkyB that it did not already own.

Osborne said he was an 'external observer' of the BSkyB dealings, and that he didn't have strong views on the issue.

"I didn't have a strong view about its merits because as far as I could see it was just going to cause us trouble one way or the other, and so it has proved to be, and I just thought that it was either going to offend a group of newspapers and indeed broadcasters we wanted to have good relations with if it was rejected, sorry if it was accepted, and if it was rejected it was going to offend another bunch of people who we wanted to have good relations with. So I regarded the whole thing as a political inconvenience - something we just had to deal with, and the best way to deal with it was to stick by the process," he said.

He dismissed 'conspiracy' theories around the decision to put reponsibility for the deal into the hands of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, knowing he supported the takeover.

"The claim is, by principally our political opponents but also others, that there is some vast conspiracy where the conservative party knows before the general election that News International wants to bid for more of Sky. That we sign up to some deal in return for their support, as expressed through the endorsement of The Sun, and when we get into office we hand over BSkyB that is what the previous person at this enquiry has alleged this morning. It is complete nonsense, and the facts simply don't bear it out," he said, in reference to an earlier testimony on Monday from former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Osborne was also asked about the decision to appoint a former editor of Murdoch's now defunct best-selling Sunday tabloid News of the World to be Cameron's chief spokesman.

Critics say Cameron's appointment of Andy Coulson showed a lack of judgement as the journalist was closely linked to a paper under suspicion of obtaining stories by illegal means.

Osborne said Coulson was hired due to his experience, merits and conservative values.

"I have seen people suggest that the reason we hired him was because of his connections with the Murdochs or Rebekah Brooks, or his knowledge of the inside workings of News International, I can tell you that was not a consideration. What we were interested in hiring is someone who was going to do the job going forward extremely well. I think if you had just hired someone, or only hired someone, or this was a key consideration, because of the connections they had I think we would have been making a mistake. We were hiring an individual to do a very important job for us, and we hired him because we thought he had the experience and the personality to do that job," he said.

Cameron is due to appear in front of the inquiry on Thursday (June 14).