MediaFile

Rupert Murdoch sells A shares, but still in control

Rupert Murdoch (Photo: Reuters)

News Corp  Chief Executive and Chairman Rupert Murdoch sold off the bulk of his common shareholding according to a regulatory filing but, have no fear the 80 year-old mogul is still very much in charge both in terms of management and financial control.

According to the filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, from Nov 16 to Nov 17 Murdoch sold a total of 3.6 million News Corp A shares for between $16.76 and and $17.07 each for a total value of some $62 million. This means Murdoch”s A shares holding went down to just 381,000 from around 4 million. The elder Murdoch had made the disposals for “financial planning” reasons, according to a source. Back in February Murdoch had bought 2.8 million A shares for between $17.19 to $17.53.

News Corp shares got battered through the summer dropping as much as 25 percent as the parent of Fox, Wall Street Journal and Twentieth Century Fox reeled from an escalating phone hacking scandal at its UK newspaper arm. Murdoch did undertake some relatively minor buying and selling of A shares over the summer.

Despite the sell-off Murdoch remains fully in control of News Corp through his family’s 40 percent stake in the B shares which have voting rights and control the company (A shares do not have voting rights).

News International loses top PR exec

News Corp exec James Murdoch

If we were at Rupert Murdoch’s daily UK tabloid The Sun we’d probably have a headline today that reads: Will the last person to leave News International please  turn off the lights?

Oh wait, The Sun already did that — but with Britain as its subject.

But we can’t help ourselves as News International executives drop like flies following the terrible phone voicemail hacking scandal which has rocked its parent company News Corp right to its core. Nearly 20 executives or journalists have either resigned, been fired or arrested since the hacking scandal escalated.

The Guardian today broke news that Alice Macandrew, the much liked, much respected senior communications executive at News International handed in her notice after falling out with News International top brass including James Murdoch about the handling of the communications strategy once the proverbial good stuff started to hit the fan this summer. We’ve since confirmed the news from our sources.

The future of journalism in the UK

By Mark Thompson
The opinions discussed are his own.

In the UK we are going through an unprecedented crisis in journalism, a crisis with the boundaries and techniques of investigative journalism at its heart.

We don’t yet know what will emerge from this crisis and from Lord Leveson’s Inquiry, but any recommendations about new laws or regulation will be studied with interest by Governments around the world.

Before the phone-hacking scandal, conventional wisdom suggested that traditional investigative journalism faced two threats:  the first economic, the second related to the impact of the internet and new forms of journalism and disclosure it has enabled.

Who stands for the public in Murdoch vs the government?

Editor’s introduction: In this essay, Geoffrey Robertson QC, who has extensive experience representing media companies and free speech cases, explores the role of the Leveson Inquiry, established by UK Prime Minister David Cameron in July to conduct a “judge-led inquiry into the culture, practices, and ethics of the press and the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International and other newspaper organisations.” Robertson places the inquiry in the historical context of media regulation in the UK. He casts a skeptical eye on the prospects for meaningful media, especially given the failures of past similar attempts and the low credibility of the UK’s Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in either protecting privacy or enforcing its ethical rulings.He then explores various proposed alternative structures to media regulation. Since the essay deals with UK-specific material, British grammar conventions have been preserved.

By Geoffrey Robertson
The views expressed are his own.

The wide-ranging remit of Leveson I is to inquire into “the culture, practices and ethics of the press”, its relations with police and politicians, and to make recommendations for “a new and more effective policy and regulatory regime” which upholds freedom of speech and media independence “whilst encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards”. This is a Royal Commission on the Press by another name: it is the fourth since the Second World War, and its terms of reference are much wider than Sir David Calcutt’s 1991 and 1993 enquiries into privacy and press ethics. Its Report will have more clout than recent reports on the subject by Parliamentary committees. Leveson II – specifically into unlawful or improper conduct by News International (or other news organizations), and by the metropolitan police, must await the conclusion of trials and appeals resulting from “Operation Weeting” and so will not get underway until 2014 at the earliest. At the first stage, recommendations will be made for legislative and policy changes in a year’s time, possibly to be introduced in conjunction with the government’s Defamation Bill.

In choosing Lord Justice Leveson to report on press discipline, the government opted for a sitting judge in the mould of Lord Hutton, from a criminal (mainly prosecution) background and with no evident empathy towards the media. Sir David Calcutt had some free speech credentials, as did Sir Hartley Shawcross (who chaired the second Royal Commission) whilst the third and most recent Commission was chaired by media-friendly Lord Macgregor (assisted, in understanding media law, by Leonard Hoffman Q.C. ) Leveson is to be “assisted” in understanding media issues by six expert “panelists” whose role and power (e.g. to append their own, or dissenting, reports) is unclear. Their “expertise” in the sharp end of news gathering is questionable – two are former political editors who were members of the discredited “lobby” system, together with a former Chief Constable, the Director of “Liberty”, an ex-head of OFCOM and a former chairman of the Financial Times. The omission of any distinguished practitioner of investigative journalism is notable. It does not mean that Leveson will not be supportive of public interest journalism, but it does mean that the press will have to make a convincing case for its own freedom from the kind of statutory restraints requiring ‘due impartiality’ and “good taste” that better-behaved (and less investigative) broadcasters have long had to endure. The demands for statutory regulation, for more criminal laws and for a new civil wrong of invasion of privacy will be difficult to resist, and already there have been siren calls to subject editors and journalists to “professional” regulation – including fines and disbarment – of a kind that have long been visited upon errant doctors and lawyers.

What Rupert did

By John Lloyd
The views expressed are his own.

The crisis at the News of the World broke in July 2011. It had been gathering for five years, since the first public intimations surfaced in 2006 of a culture of using private investigators to hack into the mobile phones of those the newspaper wished to investigate. Two ‘rotten apples’ were thrown out by News International, the parent company: these were Glen Mulcaire, the private investigator employed by a number of papers to find out secrets of the objects of their investigations; and Clive Goodman, the News of the World (NotW ) reporter who covered the royal family and whose stories had used material gleaned by Mulcaire from interceptions of the royal princes’ phones. The rest of the barrel, the paper and the company said, was unblemished: as evidence of purity of soul, the then editor, Andy Coulson, resigned, disavowing all knowledge of the hacking but shouldering responsibility as the one on whose watch this had happened. A few months later, he was employed as director of communications by David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party and of the opposition; when Cameron moved, in May 2010, into Number 10 as prime minister, Coulson retained his post and moved with him. It was reported that several of those who met Cameron at this time warned him against employing Coulson. The latter’s claim, that he had not asked a senior reporter about the source of stories which would be among the most important published in any given week, astonished those who had any acquaintance with journalism. However, Cameron said he accepted his word, that Coulson deserved a ‘second chance’ and that he had skills which the leader of the opposition needed.

From these quite modest beginnings grew a scandal whose revelations have laid bare journalistic practices which were not confined to phone hacking, nor to the NotW, and involved issues even more serious: the assumption by leading journalists working for the most widely read section of the British press that the private lives of anyone in whom they wished to take an interest should be open to their gaze and use; increasing subordination of the political class to tabloid pressure; and the possible (as yet unproven) corruption of officers of the Metropolitan Police.

This is written as the News International scandal, and others associated with it, roll on. The issue is sufficiently mature, however, for there to have appeared a substantial minority of voices which dissent from the chorus of condemnation which has attended these revelations, and assert that, even if the scandal is shocking, it has been grossly overblown – as a Wall Street Journal editorial had it, overblown because of left-wing hostility to right-wing newspapers. These voices point out that more important matters face the world; and that, even if Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation (whose UK subsidiary News International is, and which also owns Dow Jones, parent company of the Wall Street Journal) presided over an organization in which such things were winked at, he has also been a force for good in the newspaper trade. He smashed the anarchic Fleet Street print unions which were a barrier to development and growth, invested mightily in an industry from which others were and still are exiting, kept alive (among other titles) The Times at a large loss, provided millions of readers in three Anglophone countries – Australia, the UK and to a lesser extent the USA – with newspapers which they freely and often chose to buy, and ran an efficient and entrepreneurial company. More, as Ros Wynne-Jones argued in the Independent, at times his tabloids did revelatory and campaigning journalism on issues that mattered to a working-class readership: ‘holiday rip-offs, the loan shark thugs, the tawdry parasitical underclass that preys on the poor and elderly’. One could add to her list an appetite for exposing racial extremists: the Sun vividly reported on leading members of the British National Party, which had sought to give a more moderate image of itself, giving Nazi salutes and glorying in racial hatred.

Murdoch in good times and bad

By Sir Harold Evans
The views expressed are his own.

There is a clear connecting thread between the events I describe in “Good Times, Bad Times” and the dramas that led so many years later to Rupert Murdoch’s “most humble day of my life.” I was seated within a few feet of him in London on July 19, 2011, during his testimony to a select committee of MPs with his son James at his side. Not many more than a score of observers were allowed into the small room at Parliament’s Portcullis House, across the road from the House of Commons and Big Ben. A portcullis is a defensive latticed iron grating hung over the entrance to a fortified castle, the perfect metaphor for News International, which perpetually sees itself as beset by enemies.

Murdoch, as chairman and only begetter of the giant multi-media enterprise News International (NI), was called on to defend his castle and himself as best he could for the outrages of hacking and police bribery inflicted on the British public by his News of the World and the cover-up that he and his company conducted over nearly five years. The paper Murdoch most affects to despise, the Guardian, was the instrument of his undoing.

It persisted with the unraveling story almost alone in the face of repeated denials, defamation and threats and the sloppy exonerations of News International by Scotland Yard and the Press Complaints Commission. Among those waiting patiently – one might say humbly – for admission to the Portcullis House committee room was Nick Davies, the back-packing Guardian reporter, who led the paper’s investigation courageously sustained by his editor Alan Rusbridger. It was cheering to think of the impetus for good contained in Davies’ little notebook as he assiduously scribbled away during the hearing.

News Corp beefs up lobbying team on Capitol Hill – wrong country?

RupertMurdoch DCNews Corp announced on Monday it is expanding its  Capitol Hill government affairs office by promoting veterans Bill Guidera and David Fares to senior vice president and adding two more execs in Kathy Ramsey and Kristopher Jones to the Washington team.

We’ve been assured by insiders there’s nothing afoot here but that it’s a recognition of Guidera and Fares’ work. Clearly, we’ll soon hear if there’s more to it in the near future.

Interestingly, if there’s one country where News Corp could do with better government relations right now it is not the US.  The company could probably do with some extra hands in the UK where News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch (pictured, left) is dealing with a number of touchy situations in terms of government relations particularly concerning his company’s bid to take full ownership of BSkyB, the British  satellite TV  provider.