The government is under growing pressure to release details of MPs' meetings with media groups after it emerged that "News Corporation [News Corp] executives met with government ministers, officials or advisers on 10 separate occasions in the year leading up to the end of March 2015." Of the official on-diary gatherings, News Corp Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch personally attended eight of the 10 meetings.
In response to a parliamentary question from Labour MP Paul Farrelly last month, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale refused to disclose details of any meetings with Sky or News Corp executives since May 2015. Media Reform Coalition, a group set up in the aftermath of the phone hacking scandal in 2011, said the Cabinet Office refused earlier this year to release information relating to controversial meetings between Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood and the Guardian newspaper in 2013 following the publication of documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden.
Murdoch met twice with chancellor George Osborne, three times with former culture secretary, Sajid Javid and with former education secretary Michael Gove on two occasions. The prime minister, meanwhile, met with News Corp editors and executives six times between August 2014 and March 2015. David Cameron also dined with Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and owner, Lord Rothermere.
Media Reform Coalition said: "The data show that the special access afforded to News Corporation executives has shown no signs of abatement in the aftermath of the phone hacking scandal and subsequent Leveson Inquiry. Far more than any other media group, News Corporation executives met with government ministers." The group went on to note that 2015 has seen Murdoch "regain control" from the fallout which ensued after news of the phone hacking scandal broke. Last week, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that corporate charges against News Corporation would not be pursued.
In a blog post, the coaltion said: "Simply publishing 'lists' of meetings with media executives is unlikely to restore any degree of public faith after the rampant institutional corruption between media and public officials exposed during the Leveson hearings. What's more, the data is published in an extremely haphazard and uncoordinated way with no consistent format, central database, or stipulated timescale. Such is the fog of transparency that continues to endure around the nexus of media and political power."