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Minister criticized over Murdoch Olympic meeting

Saturday - 8/4/2012, 3:10pm  ET

By DAVID STRINGER and RAPHAEL SATTER

LONDON (AP) - Britain's Culture Secretary was criticized Saturday for meeting with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch at the Olympic Aquatics Center, months after he faced tough questions at the country's media ethics inquiry over his links to the mogul.

Jeremy Hunt, the most senior minister responsible for the Olympics, was seen talking briefly with Murdoch on Friday night, when the News Corp. chief attended events as a guest of London Mayor Boris Johnson. In May, Hunt had told Britain's judge-led inquiry into press standards _ which is scrutinizing links between the press and politicians _ that he regretted developing friendly ties to Murdoch's son James.

Opposition Labour Party lawmaker John Mann claimed it had been inappropriate for Hunt, whose ministry is responsible for the media, to greet Murdoch, saying he should be avoiding the media mogul "like the plague."

Evidence disclosed to the inquiry revealed the vast scale of links between Hunt's office and News Corp. A lobbyist working for Murdoch made 191 telephone calls and sent 158 emails and 799 texts to Hunt's office between June 2010 and July 2011, when the hacking scandal erupted.

Hunt's aide Adam Smith resigned following the disclosure.

Giving testimony in May, Hunt rejected accusations that he had been biased in Murdoch's favor when he was made responsible in December 2010 for a government decision on whether News Corp. should be authorized to take full control of satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting, in which it holds a 39 percent stake.

Murdoch later dropped the bid in the wake of the tabloid phone hacking scandal which has rattled his British newspaper division.

Footage broadcast by ITN showed Hunt warmly greeting Murdoch late Friday, shaking his hand and chatting animatedly outside the Aquatics Center. It was not clear what the two men were discussing.

Hunt's office insisted that the minister had not arranged in advance to meet with Murdoch, but bumped into him by chance. Aides said the pair talked about the evening's swimming competition

"Hunt just doesn't seem to be able to help himself. He is repeatedly careless and this is another example," said Mann. "It's quite inappropriate, after what has happened, that the two of them should be together at any stage."

Johnson has also faced criticism over his decision to invite Murdoch, who sat alongside the mayor inside the swimming arena.

As mayor, Johnson is responsible for Scotland Yard, which is in the middle of a politically sensitive investigation into Murdoch's scandal-ridden British newspaper arm.

The two men watched U.S. champion swimmer Michael Phelps take his 17th gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)