From THE INDEPENDENT:
The extraordinary access that Cabinet ministers granted Rupert Murdoch and his children was revealed for the first time yesterday, with more than two dozen private meetings between the family and senior members of the Government in the 15 months since David Cameron entered Downing Street.
In total, Cabinet ministers have had private meetings with Murdoch executives more than 60 times and, if social events such as receptions at party conferences are included, the figure is at least 107.
On two occasions, James Murdoch and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks were given confidential defence briefings on Afghanistan and Britain’s strategic defence review by the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox. A further briefing was held with Ms Brooks, Rupert Murdoch and the Sunday Times editor John Witherow.
The Chancellor [of the Exchequer], George Osborne, has had 16 separate meetings since May 2010 with News International editors and executives, including two with the Murdochs within just a month of taking office. He also invited Elisabeth Murdoch as a guest to his 40th birthday party last month.
The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, dined with Rupert Murdoch within days of the Government coming to power and, after being given quasi-judicial oversight for the Murdochs’ £8bn attempted takeover of BSkyB, had two meetings with James Murdoch in which they discussed the takeover.
But the minister who sees Rupert Murdoch the most frequently is the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, a former News International employee. Mr Gove has seen the mogul for breakfast, lunch or dinner on six occasions since last May. Overall, Mr Gove has had 12 meetings with Murdoch executives since becoming a minister.
The list, released by government departments yesterday evening, reinforces the impression of an unhealthily close relationship between the top echelons of News International and senior members of the Coalition Cabinet, which first became apparent when Mr Cameron released his list of contacts with news organisations a week ago. He revealed then that he had met News International executives on 26 occasions since entering Downing Street.
Senior executives and editors from News International have held private meetings with Cabinet ministers more than 60 times since last May.
The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, who was stripped of responsibility for ruling on whether the BSkyB bid should go ahead after boasting in December that he had “declared war on Rupert Murdoch”, did not have as much contact as some of his colleagues.
The Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, held a meeting shortly after the election with No 10′s then communications director Andy Coulson, the former head of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Stephenson and Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World and then an adviser to the Met. Both Mr Coulson and Mr Wallis have since been arrested on suspicion of phone hacking and Sir Paul resigned over his handling of the scandal.
A spokesman for Mr Fox said that the defence briefings given to the Murdochs covered a range of issues and were given because of the “interest in defence matters” shown by News International papers. He did not say who initiated the meetings.