Twelve exciting minutes grilling Rupert in New York this morning

October 19, 2010

Dear Mayne Reporters,

The 2010 News Corp AGM in New York this morning only lasted for 70 minutes, but we were very happy with what emerged during a continuous 12 minute exchange with Rupert Murdoch towards the end of the questions session. We managed to ask a bunch of questions and below is the chronological breakdown of the exchanges. Here is a transcript and remember that the headline links below are audio files:

Are you personally attending Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" in Washington on October 30?
This was a light-hearted effort to start with but Rupert at first said he didn't know who Jon Stewart was and then declared he couldn't make it due to the traditional October visit to Australia. Stewart is regarded as one of the most influential progressive media figures in the US, but won't get anything like the 500,000 who turned up to the Lincoln Memorial to listen to Glenn Beck from Fox News and Sarah Palin. This element of the AGM was picked up by The Hollywood Reporter.

Have you read Bruce Guthrie's new book Man Bites Murdoch, if not, here is a copy for you to read on the plane to Australia next week
Having promised so much about this in the Australian media it was important to follow through. Rupert's admission he'd be in Australia left the door open for the following exchange and successful handover:

Stephen Mayne: You will be in Australia - I thought you may have been in Australia. I've got some reading for you for your Australia trip. It is a book that was launched on Wednesday called Man Bites Murdoch. It's the story of Bruce Guthrie the former editor-in-chief of the Herald Sun - your father's old paper, the biggest selling newspaper in Australia, I would just like to provide you with a copy - so you can read it on the plane if that is ok.

Rupert Murdoch: you needn't worry - thank you.

Pause whilst walk to front and place book behind Rupert's name tag on the head table, next to where he was standing at the lectern.

Stephen Mayne: I would also like to ask you, have you read Bruce Dover's book Rupert's adventures in China?

Rupert Murdoch: no.

Stephen Mayne: could any director who has read Rupert's adventures in China please raise their hand? (No director raises their hand) Now I think that is a slightly disturbing development. I mean this was your senior executive in Hong Kong, doing a tell-all book about how apparently, billions of dollars were lost by shareholders in China, and you're saying that not one of the directors has bothered to read the book. Is that actually true? (Again, none of the 15 directors present raises their hand)

Rupert Murdoch: I don't think the book is true...

Stephen Mayne: how would you know if you haven't read it?

You turn 80 next March and are the longest serving CEO in the world at 57 years, so what are your plans?
Investors are interested in the retirement question and Rupert always dodges them but the media latched on as you can see from this story in The Financial Times. Rupert clearly has no self-awareness in his claims there are other major public company CEOs who have been in the chair for 57 years like him. Even Warren Buffett, who turned 80 a few weeks back, only started buying shares in Berkshire Hathaway in 1965. Rupert took over at News Ltd shortly after his father died in October 1952.

What is your view about the phone bugging scandal in the UK? Did you read the 5000 word piece in The New York Times?
This one is already getting a big run in the UK media as you can see from this story in The Guardian and it is outrageous that Murdoch can be so defiant given all facts which are emerging.

How has the code of ethics been followed considering the phone tapping incident in the UK?
The Murdoch claims are just unbelievable and it was good to get Viet Dinh, chair of News Corp's Nominations and Corporate Governance committee, along with lead independent director and audit committee chief, Sir Rod Eddington, on the record about this issue. And how can Rupert so emphatically deny the claims and misrepresent the UK Parliamentary committee findings when he hasn't even read this 5000 word piece in The New York Times which claimed no less than 12 former editors and reporters at News of the World had told them the phone hacking practice was widespread when David Cameron's chief spindoctor Andy Coulson was editor of the paper.

Did you meet the new British PM within 24 hours of entering office as The Mirror reported this morning?

This story in The Mirror today wasn't correct given a claimed 45 minute meeting was only really 5 minutes if you believe Rupert. However, the timing is still not clear from the transcript but it was interesting he denied any discussion about the BBC and said David Cameron basically thanked him for the editorial support provided.

What are your views about Matthew Freud's attack on Fox News on behalf of some of your family?
A very emphatic slap down for Sigmund Freud's grandson who doubles as a prominent English PR and is the partner of Rupert's daughter Elisabeth. The New York Times published this big piece on Fox in January, where Freud let fly with the following: “I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes's horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.”

The response from Rupert today when asked for a comment produced the following in The FT's story:

However, he defended Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, saying Matthew Freud, his son-in-law, “couldn't be more wrong” in having said earlier this year that he was “ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes's horrendous and sustained disregard” of journalistic standards.

Are you 100% comfortable with Glenn Beck's comments on Fox News?
There have been some recent articles suggesting hundreds of advertisers had quit Glenn Beck's program and that Roger Ailes had some concerns about Beck's excessive use of Fox News to promote his personal commercial interests. Whilst Murdoch said he doesn't agree with everything on Fox News, he strongly implied that Ailes has no concerns about Beck and claimed the other Fox News presenters do far more promotion of their other interests than Beck. He also said only about 4 or 5 advertisers had complained so they were moved to Bill O'Reilly's show with no loss of revenue for the network which now makes $US750 million a year.

Why not be like Warren Buffett and work for $US100,000 rather than get bagged by proxy advisers for being overpaid?
This was a re-work of the traditional question to overpaid billionaires such as Rupert and Frank Lowy which says they should "do a James and Kerry Packer" and donate their services for free given the size of dividends flowing to their bank accounts. Rupert's comments about Warren Buffett being able to sell a few shares each year were interesting and he didn't seem upset that only 62% of shareholders opposed the proposed "say on pay" shareholder resolution.

Whilst Rupert didn't allow any debate to clarify the situation, I got up after he read out the proxies and asked whether his 38.4% voting stake was used against the remuneration proposal. Sadly, he declined to engage and the microphone had already been removed in a display which once again showed that Rupert is not happy with being questioned or accountability.

Do you think you will reinstate the Adelaide meetings?
Rupert seemed serious when saying he'll consider re-introducing the annual Adelaide shareholder briefing every second or third year rather the annual extravaganza which lasted from 2005 until 2007 following the 2004 move to America.

Well done for firing Glenn Milne
Rupert had no knowledge about Glenn Milne getting the flick from the News Ltd Sunday papers earlier this year but it was nice to go on the record in front of Rupert and the full board to approve of the departure after the shocking drunken assault at the 2006 Walkley Awards.

Another nutty performance from Evelyn Davis

Finally, listen here to the remarkable audio where a 20 stone Republican bloke started screaming at 80-something former sex worker and serial pest Evelyn Davis, who is getting madder as the years go by. Evelyn approached most people in the room before the meeting to ask if they were press and then raved on for about 10 minutes as the first speaker when Rupert initially tried to restrict all shareholders to 2 questions each in 2 minutes. That was never going to fly but Evelyn later ascended the stairs to personally give Rupert the voting form for her 700 shares and then demanded and got a kiss from the Sun King.

That's all for now.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne

PS There should be something by Craig McMurtrie on ABC radio's Saturday AM program at 8am. I only had 4 hours sleep last night after a 28 hour trip from Melbourne and have been awake since 1.20am New York time so it's time for a quick snooze before an attempt at having a relaxing Friday night in New York. All feedback to