The comments came after a day at the Leveson Inquiry in which both News Corporation’s senior vice-president of government affairs and public policy for Europe Frederic Michel and former Department for Culture, Media and Sport special adviser Adam Smith were cross-examined.
It was revealed that Michel made 191 calls, 158 emails and 799 texts to the DCMS over the proposed BSkyB bid – 90% of which were with Jeremy Hunt's special adviser Smith.
Connect Communications CEO Gill Morris told PRWeek that the case has shone a light on the need for the Government to articulate what the role of a special adviser should be and ‘set parameters to ensure greater transparency’.
Morris stated that she has ‘some sympathy’ for Michel, as ‘special advisers are a legitimate part of the lobbying process and it is not unusual for outside organisations to seek to inform and influence them'.
‘However, we have to remember that this was a quasi-judicial decision where the Secretary of State could not have direct contact with the parties involved.
‘Adam Smith’s evidence is interesting when defining what he perceived to be the role of special advisers in this instance – firstly as a buffer but also as a "channel of communication". This is where eyebrows begin to rise.’
Jon McLeod, who led the Weber Shandwick team supporting the media alliance's lobbying campaign against the bid, spoke out about the activities of Michel and Smith, stating that the evidence has ‘added to the whiff of collusive intimacy that surrounds relations between the DCMS and News Corporation in the course of the bid’.
‘The sheer volume of texts and emails is extraordinary, especially when you bear in mind that the level of equivalent communication with the media alliance was nil.
‘It is a good rule of thumb for competition and public interest referrals for both sides to play it straight and keep special advisers out of the picture, otherwise you are open to a judicial review - as Jay indicated in cross-examining the witnesses.’
Another top lobbyist, who declined to be named, added: ‘You have to be incredibly careful in your communications with senior members of the government, especially with text messages. Michel was too fast and loose and everyone knew it.’