Media coverage of the 2007 Murdoch tilt


January 9, 2008

The media have shown quite a bit of interest in our campaign to introduce real democracy at News Corporation.

POST-MEETING MEDIA COVERAGE

The big protest vote against Rupert Murdoch's dual class voting system at News Corporation was the biggest story to come out of the AGM in New York on Friday. Here is brief summary of the press coverage:

The International Herald Tribune led off with the gerrymander vote, courtesy of Associated Press reporter, Seth Sutel, whose copy was also used by Business Week.

The Guardian provided the most colourful coverage, leading with the protest vote but even running these final two paragraphs:

Injecting a note of irony to the proceedings, Mr Mayne asked whether News Corp had considered inviting Tony Blair to join its board, pointing out that the former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar is already a director. Mr Mayne suggested the company could continue a pattern of "giving defeated leaders of the 'coalition of the willing' a seat on the board as a consolation prize".

The Independent in London led off with the Facebook valuations debate but last three paragraphs took in the gerrymander.

The main Reuters piece by reporter Kenneth Li didn't mention the dual class voting issue, but he did file an earlier update from the meeting specifically on that topic.

In Australia, Fairfax's Sydney Sunday tabloid The Sun Herald carried a brief four paragraph report that took in the gerrymander, whilst The Sunday Age in Melbourne had a more detailed story from New York correspondent Ian Munro, who didn't ask any questions at the press conference but his story covered the gerrymander towards the bottom. Australian Associated Press did likewise in a piece on The Sydney Morning Herald's site. The AFR carried a short news story on the Monday and an item in the Rear Window gossip column.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's flagship radio current affairs program AM carried Michael Rowland's report from the meeting, which led off with Rupert's refusal to comment on Australian politics but then focused on the gerrymander and Rupert's historic re-election as a director, something that hasn't happened for decades. Rowland also did a story for the Saturday night TV bulletins across the country, plus a separate story for Inside Business on Sunday.

HOW THE MURDOCH PRESS COVERED THE STORY

There wasn't anything in the printed editions of the newspapers available in New York on Saturday, save for the following brief in The New York Post's business section:

"News Corp, ending the first week of broadcasts from its new Fox Business Network, announced plans to invest as much as $200 million in the channel over the next few years. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, speaking after the annual shareholders meeting in New York, said the company will spend about $70 million in the fiscal year ending June 30. News Corp also said 22.9% of shareholders voted in favour of eliminating its dual class share structure. News Corp owns The Post."

The main news.com.au website in Australia carried a colourful piece from reporter Peter Mitchell, which focused on everyone praising Rupert. However, he did give our issue eight paragraphs midway through. There was little if any coverage in the News Ltd tabloids, but at least The Australian's New York correspondent David Nasan produced this colour piece.

Whilst The Wall Street Journal isn't part of the Murdoch stable yet, it might as well have been because they didn't cover the story online or in the print edition, despite reporter Sarah Ellison attending the meeting. With all that has happened in the past six months, surely the editors should be vigilantly demonstrating their independence by covering such a story. I gave them a polite slap in this piece for the Financial Times website.

The Dow Jones wire service was similarly reticent, only producing the following brief:

11:16 (Dow Jones) News Corp (NWS NWSA) annual shareholder meeting, a resolution seeking to eliminate the media giant's two classes of stock garnered about 185M shares in favor, or roughly 37% of votes, excluding shares held by CEO Rupert Murdoch. The vote comes after a Morgan Stanley money manager, who had complained about a similar corporate structure at New York Times (NYT), sold his NYT shares. NWS, of course, is slated to take over Dow Jones (DJ), publisher of this newswire, which has its own dual-class structure. NWS down 2.4% at $23.03.

For some unexplained reason, The New York Times was also missing in action, just three days after a campaign by Morgan Stanley against its own dual class capital structure was abandoned.

PRE-MEETING MEDIA COVERAGE

We always knew the Murdoch resolution was a winner in terms of corporate governance and the substance of the argument, but the challenge was to get some other credible people to run with it.

I'd done the following scene-setter for Crikey on Thursday which was sent to the full 45,000-strong email list.

The Australian Financial Review's Chanticleer columnist Alan Jury then gave the arguments a small run on Friday's back page, which was an important first strike to generate wider media interest once the documents were made public.

Crikey backed this up on Friday by running this story on the detail of the Murdoch resolution as number four, and once again they sent it to the full 45,000 email addresses.

Lo and behold, the Weekend AFR (not online) then devoted the whole back page to the issue again and Alan Jury seemed to agree with our argument, and added his own analysis which backed it up.

But there was more to come. The Financial Times of London, which is the only global competitor to Rupert's Wall Street Journal, has a popular blog site called Alphaville which is run out of Tokyo by reporter Gwen Robinson who produced this entertaining summary of the Murdoch bunfight and even published my own direct pitch to their readers.

Then you have a newsletter called Global Proxy Watch, which is run out of Boston by a Yale academic called Stephen Davis. His audience is the Who's Who of corporate governance globally and this week's edition included a write-up of our new venture and the Murdoch campaign.

All of this generated plenty of media and institutional noise, such that even the Murdoch press felt obliged to report the story. The Australian's Jane Schulze produced this straight news report on Saturday, which led off with Rupert's record-breaking $39 million pay packet for 2006-07 but then got into the gerrymander issue.

The Australian reported the following encouraging comments from the world's most powerful proxy advisory firm, Institutional Shareholder Services:" Dean Paatsch, Asia-Pacific vice-president of Institutional Shareholder Services, said the proposal 'raised some interesting arguments'. 'I imagine some shareholders would be sympathetic to the view that a single class of shares would improve their position,' he said.

When Institutional Shareholder Services came out with its all-important recommendation in favour of my resolution in early October, the story was broken in Crikey. There was also this piece in Crikey the next day pointing out that the Murdoch press had failed to run with the issue.

At least The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald from Fairfax gave it a run, although The AFR missed this important development.

The final piece in the initial media blitz was this 920-word opinion piece that that ran in The Sunday Age and laid out the case about Rupert's very dodgy record when it comes to democracy at the company he built.


THE AGE - Wednesday, November 14, 2007


THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW - Wednesday, 14 November, 2007


THE SUNDAY AGE - 9 SEPTEMBER 2007


THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW - September 8-9, 2007


THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW - Friday, 7 September, 2007