Frederic Michel has just given evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. Michel, who is News Corporation’s head of public affairs in Europe, was mainly asked about his cosy relationship with Jeremy Hunt’s office, in particular his adviser Adam Smith. When details of emails between Michel and Smith during the News Corp’s proposed takeover of BSkyB were published by the company earlier this month, Smith was forced to fall on his sword and resign. Hunt, who was supposed to be fulfilling a quasi-judicial role on the bid, has maintained that he acted properly.
Hunt would certainly like us to believe that Michel exaggerated his dealings with the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS). Asked by Robert Jay QC if this was the case, Michel replied: “No, I don’t agree with this. I didn’t need to [exaggerate]”.
This is certainly borne out by the numbers, which are the key fact to come out of this appearance. They show the the sheer scale of contact between Smith and Michel.
According to Jay, between November 2011 and July 2011, there were:
Over 1000 text messages exchanged (that was 799 from Michel to the DCMS – with around 90 per cent of those going to Smith – and 257 from Smith to Michel).
191 phone calls between Michel and the department
158 emails from Michel
So News Corp were certainly getting a whole lot of listening time. 1000 texts over nine months equals around three text messages a day, which is more than many of us exchange with close friends, let alone colleagues. When Smith resigned, he said that he had acted inappropriately and without Hunt’s permission. As Michel said in today’s evidence, special advisers always tend to represent the views of their boss, the secretary of state. Smith, up this afternoon, has some serious questions to answer about how much Hunt actually knew.