A feisty Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer of News Corp, fired back at critical shareholders at the annual meeting at the Fox studios in Los Angeles yesterday, before a vote was taken on nominees to the board .
A majority of shareholders supported his re-election to the company's board, as well as that of his sons, James and Lachlan, and the rest of the directors. However, rather than releasing the tally of the votes at the meeting, as is standard procedure, the company announced that the numbers wouldn’t be made public until next week. Adweek magazine described this as "A move to avoid embarrassment."
The Guardian reported that some of the world's largest investors had voted against Murdoch's re-election, and that of his sons, to the board. They also did not approve of the £21million he was paid as chairman and chief executive this year.
The 80-year-old CEO had started off in a conciliatory vein. Opening the meeting he said, “I’m personally determined to right whatever wrong has been committed and to ensure that it doesn’t happen again anywhere in our company. We cannot be just a profitable company. we must be a principled company.”
And he added, “I think the closing of the News of the World was the right thing to do.”
However, the mood in the room soured as shareholders lined up at two microphones to criticise the company on governance and its s performance.
“I hate to call you a liar but I don’t believe you,” Murdoch said to investor Stephen Mayne, director of the Australian Shareholders Association, who said he was undecided how to vote and was seeking a debate over governance proposals and board nominations. “I know how you’re going to vote,” Murdoch said.
One shareholder asked about the “thousands” of people whose phones were hacked by journalists at The News of the World and how the board is conducting its inquiry .
Murdoch said , “It’s not thousands. I’ve not heard that figure before.” Joel Klein, the News Corp. executive leading the internal investigation, said the company was conducting a thorough investigation. He said “there is no official count” of how many people were hacked.
A representative for the Church of England backed the resolution to separate the roles of chairman and chief executive. The Murdoch family’s voting power must be reduced, he said, so that it is more in line with its economic stake in the company.
After the Church man criticised News Corp.’s returns, Mr. Murdoch fired back, “Your returns haven’t been great either.”
Proxy advisers and investors including Calpers, the largest U.S. pension fund, have called on Murdoch and his sons James and Lachlan to quit the board in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.
Tom Watson, the British MP who has piled pressure on News Corp, told the meeting that journalists at the News of the World had hacked computers as well as mobile phone voicemails. He said a man who had left prison was hired by News Corp and hacked into the computer of a former army intelligence officer.
"I promise you absolutely that we will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of this," Murdoch told Watson.
Murdoch revealed the company could make another attempt to buy the 61pc of BSkyB that it does not already own. News Corp did not have any plans to revive the bid but he "wouldn't say never". He added, "We have great influence there and we're proud of it."
At 8:45 a.m. California time, news media and security outside 20th Century Fox’s main gate had outnumbered protesters by two to one. One protester wore a Rupert Murdoch Halloween mask.
After just 90 minutes of talk inside at a Fox theatre, Murdoch brought to an an abrupt halt to a meeting that had become "embarrassing," as Adweek magazine put it (there's that word again). "I think we’ve had enough questions,” said Murdoch “I declare the meeting finished.”
MILLY DOWLER SETTLEMENT ANNOUNCED
News International has agreed to pay £2 million to the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler whose phone was hacked by News of the World, the company and the family confirmed yesterday in a joint statement.
The statement said Murdoch would also donate £1 million to charities chosen by the Dowler family, including youth and cancer research groups.
Murdoch met with the Dowlers in July to personally apologise to them . He said he was "appalled" to have discovered what happened.
In the statement today , he said he hoped something positive could be be done in memory of Milly.
"The behaviour that the News of the World exhibited towards the Dowlers was abhorrent and I hope this donation underscores my regret for the company's role in this awful event," he said.