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UK Appoints New Culture Minister

By | Tuesday September 4, 2012 @ 9:01am PDT

Maria Miller takes over for Jeremy Hunt, who became a central UK governmental figure in the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal for his purported close ties to the tabloid’s owner News Corp and its then-European head James Murdoch. Prime Minister David Cameron is keeping Hunt in the cabinet fold, however, appointing him Health Secretary earlier today. Miller, meanwhile, is considered a bit of a surprise pick, according to the British press. She most recently was Parliamentary-Under Secretary State at the Department for Work and Pensions, and now she will have oversight of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which among its duties is spearheading the Leveson inquiry that was formed in the wake of the hacking scandal. She previously served on the Trade and Industry Select Committee in 2005-2006, was Shadow Minister for Education in 2005, Shadow Minister for Family Welfare in 2006, and Shadow Minister for the Family 2007-10. Before joining Parliament, she was a director of Grey Advertising and also Rowland Saatchi and worked at Texaco in business development and marketing.

(Photo: Getty Images)

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Global Showbiz Briefs: UK Culture Secretary, Sky Acquisitions Team, Lachlan Murdoch

By | Tuesday September 4, 2012 @ 1:47am PDT

UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt To Be Ousted?
UPDATE: David Cameron has named Jeremy Hunt to the post of Health Secretary. Hunt told the BBC, “It’s a huge task. It’s the biggest privilege of my life. I’m incredibly honored.”

PREVIOUS: Jeremy Hunt may be on his way out as part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle. Hunt fell under scrutiny a few months ago for what some considered a too-cozy relationship with the office of James Murdoch during News Corp.’s bid to acquire the whole of BSkyB. Hunt, whose official title is Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, expects to lose his post, sources tell The Guardian, although he recently oversaw what was considered a successful London Olympic Games. According to The Guardian, speculation is that he will make a lateral move to the Department for International Development. One name that’s popped up as a possible replacement should Hunt change jobs is Communications Minister Ed Vaizey.

Sky Revamps Acquisitions Team
Sky has promoted controller of acquisitions for Sky Entertainment, Sarah Wright, to controller of acquisitions for Sky, adding acquisitions for Sky Movies to her responsibilities. She replaces Simon Rexworthy, who will join Sky’s Strategy team from October. Wright was involved in the launch of Sky Atlantic and oversaw the acquisitions strategy for the re-launches of Sky Living and Sky Arts. Read More »

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Rupert Murdoch Tweets In Defense Of The Sun And Free UK Press: “Let’s Get Real”

By | Monday August 27, 2012 @ 2:59am PDT

Controversial naked photos of Britain’s Prince Harry are available on the Internet, but after Rupert Murdoch‘s Sun newspaper published them on Friday, the Press Complaints Commission logged over 850 gripes. Murdoch responded – and launched what looks like a challenge to the Leveson Inquiry on UK media ethics – by defending the tabloid’s decision via Twitter. On Sunday, he tweeted: “Simple equation: free, open uncontrollable Internet versus shackled newspapers equals no newspapers. Let’s get real.” In October, Lord Justice Brian Leveson will file what is expected to be a critical report from the inquiry and make suggestions for press regulation spurred on by the phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch’s UK newspaper division. Also on Sunday, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who’s been criticized for his cozy relationship with James Murdoch’s office, told the BBC, “We can agree with what someone like Mr Murdoch does or you can disagree with it. But in the end that is not for politicians to tell editors what to publish.”

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UK Won’t Investigate Culture Minister’s Role In News Corp’s BSkyB Bid

By | Thursday May 31, 2012 @ 11:36am PDT

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said he won’t launch a probe into whether Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt breached the ministerial code of conduct for Hunt’s part in overseeing News Corp’s ultimately failed bid for BSkyB. Hunt has been in the spotlight for his supposed close ties to News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch and son James, which raised eyebrows when he was handed a quasi-judicial role overseeing the $14B bid for the 61% of BSkyB that News Corp didn’t already own. During Hunt’s testimony today before the Leveson Inquiry charged with investigating UK media ethics, it was revealed he texted his congratulations to James Murdoch in December 2010 after News Corp’s bid cleared a regulatory hurdle. “Congratulations on Brussels,” Hunt texted to Murdoch after the European Commission ruled it would not block a deal. “Only Ofcom to go.” Not long after, Hunt was appointed the government overseer of the bid, which was scrapped in July as the phone-hacking scandal at News Corp-owned tabloid News Of The World erupted. Hunt told the inquiry today he would not have sent the text if he had known he was getting the overseer role. After watching Hunt today, Cameron said the Culture Minister acted “properly” throughout the period he was responsible for the bid.

Related: UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt To Turn Over Emails, Texts On BSkyB Bid Process Read More »

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U.K. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt To Turn Over Emails, Texts On BSkyB Bid Process

By | Friday April 27, 2012 @ 8:51am PDT

Jeremy Hunt ScandalEmbattled British politician Jeremy Hunt told reporters today in London that he would hand over private correspondence to the UK inquiry into media ethics. Hunt has come under fire since it was revealed Tuesday that there may have been inappropriate communication between his office and that of James Murdoch during the BSkyB bid process. Hunt held a quasi-judicial role in the deal, which News Corp ultimately aborted when the phone-hacking scandal rocked its UK press interests. Today, Hunt said, “I will be handing over all my private texts and emails to my special adviser to the Leveson Inquiry and I am confident they will vindicate the position that I handled the BSkyB merger process with total integrity.” Hunt’s adviser Adam Smith fell on his sword earlier this week after James Murdoch’s testimony at the inquiry revealed stacks of email correspondence between Smith and News Corp’s public affairs chief Fred Michel. The British Labour Party has called for Hunt’s resignation.

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Hacking Update: UK Seeks Tighter Media Controls In Wake Of Scandal

By | Wednesday September 14, 2011 @ 4:49pm PDT

Chase Carey Says His Role “Hasn’t Changed” With Hacking Scandal

The fallout from News Corp’s phone-hacking scandal continued to reverberate today. U.K. Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt said he was backing new legislation that would tighten controls on cross-media ownership. Under the proposal, rolled out at the Royal Television Society Convention in Cambridge, politicians would be barred from approving major media deals and inquiries on media plurality could be launched by regulators Ofcom and the Competition Commission without the trigger of a takeover bid. Hunt said that News Corp’s near takeover of BSkyB in July, abandoned in the scandal’s wake, convinced him changes were needed. “I was very conscious in the recent BSkyB bid that however fairly I ran the process, people were always going to question my motives,” he said. Read More »

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ANALYSIS: Referring BSkyB Deal To UK Anti-Trust Regulator A Smooth Move By Scandal-Plagued News Corp

News Corp Shares Plunge 7.1% & BSkyB 7.5% Over UK Scandal Fears
Has UK Phone-Hacking Scandal Sunk Rupert Murdoch’s Biggest Deal?
Shareholders Sue News Corp: Corporate Governance “Culture Run Amok”

In an extraordinary twist, News Corp has done today what it has spent months trying to prevent, and has forced the UK government to refer its £9 billion deal to buy BSkyB outright to anti-trust regulator the Competition Commission. This will delay the deal for months. But crucially, it means that News Corp does not have to drop its bid entirely.

Jeremy Hunt, the UK culture secretary, had no choice but to stand up in the House of Commons this afternoon and announce he was referring the BSkyB deal to the anti-trust regulator. Hunt said the move would address the “abuses of power” that have dogged the biggest deal of Rupert Murdoch’s career. Hunt may have presented what he was doing as a victory for tough government, but the truth is that’s exactly what the Murdochs now want: They believe they will be cleared of having too much media ownership if they buy BSkyB outright. Europe’s anti-trust regulator has already cleared the deal on competition grounds. News Corp has withdrawn its offer to spin off Sky News as a separate entity. Previously, FCC-equivalent Ofcom said that spinning off Sky News would be enough to swing the deal in its eyes.

Hunt is desperately rowing back from his previously sympathetic attitude towards the BSkyB deal. He has ambitions to be Prime Minister and has finally realized that the mushroom cloud rising over News International, News Corp’s UK newspaper arm, could affect his political ambitions, I’m told. Hunt has written to other regulators, asking them whether they want to reconsider their original go-ahead for the bid. Ofcom still has the ability to scupper the deal if it decides that News Corp is not a fit and proper owner for BSkyB. Since its original advice, press regulator the Press Complaints Commission said it was lied to by News International, James Murdoch has admitted serious wrongdoing and there are allegations of a cover-up stretching back to 2007.

BSkyB shares were down 7.5% this afternoon at 694p per share — well under the 700p per share that News Corp originally offered for the 61% of the pay-TV behemoth it does not already own. Read More »

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ANALYSIS: Rupert Murdoch Sacrificed News Of The World For BSkyB Deal

Murdoch To Close News Of The World: “We Have Made Mistakes” In Phone-Hacking Scandal

James Murdoch’s decision to close the News of the World is seen here as the biggest gesture News Corp can make to try and save its takeover of BSkyB. Jeremy Hunt, the UK culture secretary in charge of approving the BSkyB deal, has saved face by announcing that any decision over the deal will be delayed until the fall. Hunt was due to finally approve the deal tomorrow. Owning BSkyB outright would mean News Corp getting its hands on its swelling £5.7 billion ($9 billion) revenues. It would also cement Rupert Murdoch’s position as the most powerful media magnate in Britain.

The decision to close the News of the World tabloid at the center of the deepening phone-hacking scandal has stunned media over here. One insider at News International — Murdoch’s newspaper arm — has told the BBC that “Rupert Murdoch is losing his judgement” in deciding to close the paper rather than fire CEO Rebekah Brooks, who was editing the News of the World at the time of the alleged phone hacking of 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler and the families of the London bombing victims. Questions are being asked as to why around 200 journalists on the News of the World should lose their jobs when those at the top of News International such as Brooks or indeed James Murdoch himself are still in place after self-admitted management failure. Read More »

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UK Ready To Clear News Corp’s Long-In-Works Takeover Of BSkyB

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is one step closer in its long regulatory fight to take control of British Sky Broadcasting, with UK Culture Secretary telling the House of Commons today that he is ready to approve the merger. He did say he would give opponents of the tie-up a week to raise final objections over the deal, which critics have said threatens diversity in the news marketplace (News Corp arm News International publishes The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and the News of the World newspapers in the UK). Hunt said that he has received concessions from News Corp recently that address those fears. (Meanwhile, opponents have questioned Murdoch’s influence over Hunt, the Financial Times said.) Already, the National Union of Journalists has organized a demonstration for today with other guilds and unions outside the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in London. ”Rupert Murdoch’s profit-at-all costs philosophy forces too many journalists to cut corners, compromise professional standards and set aside ethical conduct for fear of failing to deliver the sales demanded by executives,” said NUJ secretary Jeremy Dear. “This model of journalism is not in the public interest — it serves only the accountants.”

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Murdoch’s U.K. Rivals Launch Last-Ditch Appeal Over BSkyB

By | Monday March 14, 2011 @ 11:24am PDT

Newspaper groups and telco BT have written to members of the UK parliament in hope of derailing Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of pay-TV giant BSkyB. Rival owners of the Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and others are urging MPs to lobby Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, whom they hope might be persuaded to do a U-turn and refer News Corp.’s bid for the 61% of BSkyB it does not already own to the anti-trust regulator. Read More »

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Murdoch Gets Go-Ahead To Buy BSkyB

Today sees huge changes in the British media landscape. Jeremy Hunt, the UK culture secretary, has approved Rupert Murdoch’s controversial bid to buy the 61% of pay-TV broadcaster BSkyB he does not already own. Hunt has decided not to refer News Corp’s £7.5 billion bid to UK antitrust regulator the Competition Commission. News Corp has offered to spin off news channel Sky News into a separate company. Rival news organisations have complained that News Corp would control too many news outlets if it owns Sky News and newspapers. Murdoch has offered to keep the loss-making news channel going for another 7-10 years. Sky News loses around £20 million ($33 million) each year. This approval is quite a milestone in seeing Rupert Murdoch becoming even more powerful. Read More »

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Murdoch BSkyB Probe Thrown Into Chaos

Jeremy Hunt, the UK culture secretary – and a man known to be sympathetic to the Murdoch media empire – will now decide whether News Corp’s £7.8 billion ($12.5 billion) takeover of BSkyB gets referred to the Competition Commission. Business secretary Vince Cable disqualified himself from the role this afternoon after telling 2 undercover newspaper reporters that he had “declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win”. Prime minister David Cameron called Cable’s views on Rupert Murdoch “completely unacceptable”. The BBC has been leaked the full transcript of Cable’s secret taped conversation with the Daily Telegraph reporters. Ofcom is investigating the bid on the grounds of protecting a diversity of voices. It’s not meant to be political. Cable went on: “His whole empire is now under attack… So there are things like that we do in government, that we can’t do… all we can do in opposition is protest.” Robert Peston, the Beeb’s business editor, has been leaked the transcript by a whistleblower unhappy that the Daily Telegraph omitted this part of Cable’s interview in today’s front page splash. News Corp says: “News Corporation is shocked and dismayed by reports of Mr Cable’s comments. They raise serious questions about fairness and due process.” Claire Enders of Enders Analysis, the media analyst who wrote to Cable outlining how the deal would harm media diversity, tells me: “This was a huge mistake on his part. It … Read More »

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UK Broadcasters Could Be Forced To Carry Local News Bulletins

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt raised the possibility of Sky also being told to run local news, at least in the short term. Otherwise it could risk being demoted on where it sits on electronic TV listings. Hunt thinks that Sky and other broadcasters will end up paying local TV news suppliers because local news will prove popular. He’s asked UK communications regulator Ofcom to look into local TV news provision. Hunt, speaking at this morning’s Royal Television Society International Conference in London, raised the possibility of public broadcasters who invest in local news ranking higher on the Electronic Programme Guide. But Hunt ducked the question as to whether broadcasters who ignore local news will find themselves in turn demoted. The coalition culture secretary said that being on the first page of the EPG is worth £30 million ($48 million) a year in terms of revenue to a broadcaster. “I think that ITV and Channel 4 will both want to play their part,” Hunt told the RTS. “They get considerable benefit from their public service broadcaster status.” With analogue TV soon to be switched off here, where you sit on the EPG – ranked alongside 100s of other channels – is becoming increasingly important. As more and more households switch to digital television, a prominent position becomes increasingly important for the main channels to attract viewers from their smaller rivals.

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UK Government To Scrap Rules Stopping Local Press From Running TV Stations

Local TV channels don’t exist here the way they do in the States. If anything, TV has been going in reverse, with the regional ITV Network having bigger and bigger footprints. UK culture secretary Jeremy Hunt will confirm Tuesday morning that he’s abolishing local cross-media ownership restrictions. Hunt will unfavourably compare the UK to the US, where people can typically watch 6 local TV stations. Hunt will also announce that a new Communications Act will go before Parliament late 2012. The last Communications Act revolutionised the way TV producers do business. Hunt is giving the domestic keynote at tomorrow’s Royal Television Society conference in London. Jeff Bewkes, CEO and chairman of Time Warner — who last week unveiled a major shake-up at Warner Bros — will give the international keynote.

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BBC Chief Blasts Rupert & James Murdoch

As expected, BBC director general Mark Thompson has gone on the attack against the Murdochs and News Corp. He warned that Sky will shortly become Britain’s biggest broadcaster and said such a concentration of cross-media ownership would not be allowed in the U.S.. Thompson blasted Sky for spending so little on original programming and pointed out that the £100 million it spends each year is not much more than Channel 5’s UK programme budget. This is despite Sky’s £5.9 billion turnover being more than 15 times that of Five’s.

Thompson also used his keynote Edinburgh TV festival speech to single out News Corp for weakening and undermining the BBC. At times, he evoked playwright Dennis Potter’s fiery 1993 Mactaggart lecture pouring bile on Rupert Murdoch. Thompson defended the BBC as an idea of “public space”, one which “would not put anybody on the wrong side of an encryption wall”. Thompson criticised the Murdoch press for chipping away at the BBC trying to uncover some new petty scandal. Stories attacking the BBC were ramped up, distorted or just plain nonsense, Thompson said. One reporter cheerfully admitted to him that his newspaper bosses were just out to get the Corporation. The free-marketers have spent the last 25 years making a case for abolishing the BBC, said Thompson, yet public support for the Beeb has actually increased.

“Enemies of public service broadcasting always want to atomise … Read More »

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UK Film Council Spending “Tens of Thousands Of Pounds” Hiring Lobbyists

This morning’s Times of London reports that the film agency has hired political lobbyists Portland, the PR firm founded by a former adviser to Tony Blair. Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has written to John Woodward, CEO of the Film Council, demanding he explain why has taken on Portland, whose other clients include McDonalds and the Russian government. Ed Vaizey, the culture secretary, wrote to the UKFC last week accusing the quango of “overzealously briefing in order to protect their interests”. This was before news that UKFC has hired an external PR firm came out. Treasury regulations prohibit quangos from using public money to employ PR firms to lobby government. UK Film Council says that it’s not using public money to fight against closure. Rather, its two-man press team have been overwhelmed by thousands of media enquiries. Portland is solely there to help the internal PR team cope with the tsunami of emails and phone calls.

The Times points the finger at Portland for procuring letters of support for the UKFC from Clint Eastwood and DreamWorks. UK Film Council head of communications Oliver Rawlins told trade mag PR Week that nobody from his team liaised with Eastwood or DreamWorks to invite to make their comments, despite handling a comms strategy relying on third-party advocacy. “We’ve ensured that the message has been simple, clear and consistent: this is a terrible decision that disregards the commercial benefits of the UK Film Council, the significant … Read More »

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So, What Will Take The Place Of UKFC?

James Lee, former chairman of Scottish film agency Scottish Screen, has written to UK culture secretary Jeremy Hunt proposing all £15 million of lottery funding be injected into a single distribution label. BBC Films and Film4 would be obliged to release all their films through this “British National Distribution Company.” Indie producers would then apply to have their films fully financed. This is a revival of an old idea. Back in the late 90s, a government report recommended that all lottery funding be spent on a distribution-led studio aping the Hollywood model. Fine in theory but the government immediately saw the impossibility of using public money to fund a commercial rival to existing film companies. John Woodward, current CEO of the Film Council, was one of those who shot the idea down. Woodward, then CEO of UK producers’ lobbyist Pact, realised that the Middleton Report proposal would leave too many of his producer members hungry for cash.

Michael Grade has also weighed in to the UK Film Council debate, suggesting producers get to be the ones distributing lottery funds. “Could we introduce a system whereby internationally established UK producers, who have had success in both commercial and cultural terms, play a role in distributing lottery funds?” Grade wrote in the Times of London. “Surely they are more likely to pick winners than the bureaucrats.” But wait, the government has already … Read More »

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Government Mulls Handing Over $19M Lottery Money To Arts Council Of England

UPDATE: UK culture minister Jeremy Hunt and arts minister Ed Vaizey have rowed back transferring the £15 million ($19 million) lottery film cash to the British Film Institute. Nor are they going to ask BBC Films and Film4 to split the money between them. I’m told that BBC Films has reacted “with horror” at the prospect of controlling the lottery cash. The BBC’s film department may make the same kind of features as the UK Film Council, but getting hold of that money could see its own £12 million funding being cut.

The irony is that it was the Arts Council of England’s original bungling of the lottery film cash that partly led to the UKFC being established. In the late 90s, producers were crying out for proper industry executives to award production funding, not a committee of well-meaning amateurs. Now it looks like we’re going full circle. “Once it finds out what’s going on, the whole industry will start laughing and then start crying,” says my source.

Tim Bevan, co-chair of Working Title, and UKFC chief executive John Woodward met Vaizey and Hunt this afternoon at 2:30pm (6:30am PST).

Liam Neeson, meanwhile, has weighed in to the controversy, calling the government’s decision “deplorable”. Neeson told the BBC: “We need movies. It’s a powerful industry that provides a credible entertainment for millions of people and I think it is wrong, I just think it is wrong for the government [to do this]. I … Read More »

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UK Film Council Closure Polarizes Industry

UPDATE: Reactions to the UK government closing down the £60 million-a-year ($94 million) state film agency have formed into two distinct camps.

Many producers I’ve spoken to say the UK Film Council never did anything for them and will not be missed. Sure, they’ve had dribs and drabs of funding but they’ve been excluded from what they perceive as the charmed inner circle. The UKFC’s headcount is still 75 despite the recent 20% slash in its overhead. “A handful dealt with film financing,” one producer tells me. “It was never clear what the rest did.”

Indeed, it may be that the UKFC closure increases the amount of cash available for production. The agency had been spending 23% of the £38.5 million lottery funding it was receiving on overhead. This compares with 13-14% at other UK screen agencies Scottish Screen and Film Agency For Wales. UKFC had worked up a plan to get its lottery overhead down to under 5% before the plug was pulled.

And the amount paid UKFC executives is another bugbear. The government recently disclosed that four of the organisation’s executives had been earning more than £150,000 a year. Tanya Seghatchian, the new film fund head, had an annual salary of £165,000 – although this has since been reduced — the argument being that the state must match what executives could earn in the private sector. But it’s not as if the industry’s crying out for development executives, say producers – … Read More »

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