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Competition: Emails between Hunt and Murdoch suggest risk of bias

Legal commentators analysing the disclosures of James Murdoch to the Leveson Inquiry this week have stated that they suggest that there was a real risk of bias during NewsCorps failed takeover of BskyB last year.

Mr Murdoch took the witness stand at the enquiry to answer questions relating to the central question of media influence over politicians. During testimony he revealed that he was in regular email contact with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Murdoch later also disclosed that he had phoned Mr Hunt for a private conversation the day after a meeting between the pair had been cancelled as it had been deemed inappropriate

Carl Gardner is a former government legal adviser:

"Based on these emails, there's clearly a risk of bias," he said.

"I don't think any decision by Hunt to clear the deal could have been legally sustainable if these emails had been disclosed to a court," he added.

The secretary of state lost most of their powers to intervene in takeovers under the Enterprise Act 2002. The Competition Commission is instead responsible for approving mergers, in a move designed to ensure impartiality.

However, under the Act the secretary of state retains the power to intervene in cases relating to national security, the stability of the UK financial system, and the plurality of the media.

Mr Hunt decided not to refer the NewsCorp takeover of BskyB to the Competition Commission, insisting in March 2011 that his decision has been taken independently of any influence.

Addressing the House of Commons at the time, Mr Hunt said: "We have to assume, because there are so many interests at stake that any side that is disappointed with this decision will attempt judicially to review it. For that reason, at every stage of the process, we have sought to be completely transparent, impartial and fair."

Although details of all meetings between Mr Hunt's office and the Murdoch family were disclosed, private phone conversations and some emails were not.

The matter was made academic last year after the phone-hacking scandal prompted the prime minister to announce that any takeover by NewsCorp would be inappropriate, and the Murdoch's subsequently announced that the deal was dead.

Related links:

Read more on the story (The Guardian)

Mergers and competition law (FindLaw)