Another News Corp AGM, another major attack from a veteran Murdoch commentator. Last year it was Terry McCrann ranting that I was an “an utterly insignificant gadfly,” this year it’s Mark Day who has unloaded on Crikey in The Australian today. Try these lines for size:

He (Mayne) is running a full-scale vendetta against Murdoch and the company, obsessed by his conspiracy theories, fixated by the inner workings of the Murdoch family and consumed by his belief that Murdoch exercises ruthless control over every headline, every word and every comma that appears in his worldwide publications.

In the first 100 words of his reports from New York, Mayne accused Murdoch of indulging in brazen spin, dodgy tactics and procedural trickery. That was followed by the throwaway line that “We all know that Rupert Murdoch is a control freak”, and his recent calculations that News Corp would be worth more if Murdoch were dead. Charming.

Then we have the old chestnut about accuracy – I’m just “a gadfly with a long track record of getting his facts wrong.” But what about the accuracy of Mark Day’s column, which was written without seeking any comment to check the facts?

I’ve never said Murdoch exercises ruthless control over every headline, but I do say his culture doesn’t tolerate dissent from the company line as it demonstrated by the pathetic coverage of the poison pill controversy and the remarkable uniformity of the pro-Iraq war stance across his outlets globally.

They weren’t my calculations that News Corp shares would rise if Rupert died, that’s what three respected analysts said at the big industry funds conference in Cairns two months ago. I reported accurately what they said. And Crikey doesn’t go to 5500 daily subscribers any more, it goes to 7000+ subscribers and a further 23,000 squatters.

As for the “brazen spin, dodgy tactics and procedural trickery” at the AGM, these are the facts. At recent AGMs Rupert has improved by dealing with each item individually and making his introductory remarks at the beginning of the meeting. In New York we returned to the intimidatory bad old days where all seven items of business were lumped in together and his introductory remarks were once again at the end.

The brazen spin was to lump in the support from three billionaires to come up with a large percentage figure and declare there was no protest vote without even disclosing the actual votes against various resolutions, which were at record highs.

Then we have this bizarre line suggesting I’m the only person concerned about corporate governance at News Corp: “His campaigns against proposals at the AGM were profoundly ineffective. Clearly, the company’s credibility outweighs Mayne’s among most of the shareholders.”

I didn’t campaign against anything and didn’t even vote my stock. The campaign was run by the 11 global institutions who are suing News Corp in a Delaware court over the broken poison pill promise. They were backed up by the most powerful proxy adviser in the world, Institutional Shareholder Services, and the world’s biggest fund manager, Boston-based Fidelity, which voted its 5% stake against most of the resolutions.

Finally, Day asserts that “show ponies who set out to attract headlines and attention by their activism need to separate those antics from what they purport to be journalism.”

They are separate, Mark. I didn’t attend or ask any questions at the press conference after the AGM and haven’t for the past seven years. That would be double dipping. I was there as a shareholder who is underwater on a $12,000 investment and simply engaged in perfectly rational and sensible debate at the AGM, then expressed some opinions in reporting back to people who have paid to receive such reports for the past six years.

My formal occupation is “shareholder activist and commentator,” yet Day is somehow suggesting this shouldn’t be allowed. I’m not some neutral “he said, she said” reporter, striving for balance. Much of what I say is strong opinion and heaven forbid, relentless campaigning on a whole range of issues. Today I’ve been ripping into Gunns Ltd executive chairman John Gay over his bodgy corporate governance practices.

As for News Corp responding to every mistake and opinion, bring it on. Respond to this one: Rupert Murdoch has once again taken the corporate governance low road by not releasing the full voting results from the AGM. Where are the all-important open and undirected proxies that must be released by ASX listed companies? Embarrassingly large, were they? Resolutions could have failed without them and the support of the three billionaires, perhaps?

Over and out.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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