Rupert Murdoch has just appointed a 30-something independent to the News Corp board, but sadly is wasn’t Crikey who failed in a tilt at the News board in 2002.

News Corp is already behaving like an American company. Check out this ASX announcement confirming that Graham Kraehe has left the board and two more blokes have been invited by Rupert into the inner sanctum.

It is datelined “New York April 16” but the Australian media only picked it up for Monday morning’s paper, which just goes to show how sleepy our Sunday papers are when it comes to business coverage.

And what about this laughable headline: “News Corp elects two new directors”. We would love to have seen the way this vote was conducted.

The two new directors are Viet Dinh, a Georgetown University law professor and Bush Administration adviser, and Peter Barnes, former president, Philip Morris Asia. Strangely, the News Corp papers today omitted the rather relevant fact that Viet Dinh wrote the controversial Patriot Act for the Bush Administration. Check out his University profile here.

Crikey is considering a tilt at the News Corp board this year at the last ever AGM in Australia. And with 36-year-old Viet Dinh being arguably the youngest ever independent director of a top 10 Australian company, it might just negate the old “too young” argument.

Peter Barnes satisfies the requirement that News Corp have two Australian-based directors (the other is 40-year News Corp veteran and Murdoch loyalist Ken Cowley) but we doubt either of the newcomers will be a powerful independent force. Afterall, Viet Dinh has little commercial experience to speak of and Peter Barnes no doubt came to Rupert’s attention through the Sun King’s long stint on the Philip Morris board.

The former Philip Morris executive chairman Geoffrey Bible is also a great mate of Rupert’s and one of these News Corp “independent” directors that will oversee the largest related party transaction in Australian corporate history later this year when the company buys control of Queensland Press off the Murdoch family by between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.

Naturally, Bible is Rupert’s perfect “independent” to chair the curiously named News Corp “nominating and corporate governance committee” which controls the inflow of “independent” directors.

The two other members of this committee are supposedly “independent” former News Corp executives Ken Cowley and Rod Eddington, both of whom made millions courtesy of Rupert’s generosity.

This committee is a classic example of how News Corp is not really controlled by genuinely independent directors at all. If Rupert wants a Bush adviser and a tobacco veteran on the board then that is what he gets.

And why is there no advice as to who will replace Kraehe as chairman of the News Corp audit committee? When he took on the chairmanship of the NAB risk committee last August, Kraehe really was massively over-committed as he was only seven months into the audit chair gig at News Corp.

By confirming his News Corp resignation, which follows the earlier departure from the Brambles board, Kraehe is also clearly indicating his confidence in surviving the Cathy Walter campaign to have him flicked as NAB chairman.

Finally, these new appointments mean News Corp has maintained its six year run without a female director since Anna Murdoch quit the board in 1998. An intermediary did approach Qantas chairman Margaret Jackson but she changed her mind after Crikey pointed out the inappropriateness of such a move given her relatively recent appointment to the board of rival newspaper publisher John Fairfax board.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey