Industry says lobbying consultation inadequate as Leveson unfolds

The Government's statutory register plans have been labelled inadequate for their failure to include in-house lobbyists such as News Corporation's Frederic Michel.

News International: key lobbyist brought into inquiry
News International: key lobbyist brought into inquiry

Michel, News Corporation’s senior vice-president of government affairs and public policy for Europe, was drawn into scrutiny of the conglomerate in yesterday’s Leveson Inquiry, as claims were made that he enjoyed a close relationship with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Emails read out to the inquiry seemed to suggest that Hunt secretly backed News Corporation's bid to take over satellite broadcaster BSkyB. One suggested that Michel managed to get a direct line to Hunt within minutes of a story breaking about News Corp's attempts to take full control of BSkyB.

Public affairs experts have pointed to the fact that in-house lobbyists like Michel have so far been excluded from the Cabinet Office’s consultation into developing a statutory register of lobbyists.

PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham commented that ‘today shows that a statutory lobbying register must include in-house lobbyists – the Government needs to change its plans’.

Cicero Group director and chief corporate counsel Iain Anderson told PRWeek: ‘The evidence to Leveson just adds to the need to ensure we have universality in any statutory register.

‘Unless the register includes all lobbyists, whether agency or in-house, it will not deliver the Government’s aim of increasing transparency in the lobbying process and will not stand the test of time.’

Insight Public Affairs MD John Lehal added: ‘As the emails show, it is the in-house team that was leading the engagement with government, not a lobbying agency.

‘That’s why the proposed register must apply universally to all individuals and organisations involved in lobbying activity in a professional capacity.’

News Corporation released more than 170 pages of evidence, consisting of internal emails and text messages.

In one email, dating from January last year, Michel reported Hunt’s belief that it would be ‘game over’ for opponents of the BSkyB takeover once plans to spin off Sky News into a separately listed company were announced.

The inquiry also revealed that Michel offered Take That concert tickets to try to smooth the path of the BSkyB takeover bid.

However, Hunt responded: ‘I made my position very clear, I am going to be making a very, very determined effort to show that I behaved with total integrity and conducted this process scrupulously fairly.’

Michel took the Brussels-based role in February, after working at the company’s UK office. Before joining News Corporation, Michel was a managing partner at Reputation Inc and was a founding director of the international think-tank Policy Network.

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