Rupert Murdoch’s book publishing arm
Harper Collins has occasionally been embroiled in controversy over the
years for the way it has used the payment of big advances to arguably
further the political or commercial interests of the broader company. Mother Jones had this excellent wrap of the issue in 1995.

The questionable or politically convenient Harper Collins advances have included the following:

  • $US4.5 million to Newt Gingrich as he prepared to become Republican
    speaker of the house in 1994-95 and Rupert faced some regulatory
    problems in the US.
  • $US5.4 million to Margaret Thatcher for her memoirs after all those regulatory favours she did for Rupert.
  • More than $US1 million to Deng Rong for the English translation rights to her book, My Father Deng Xiaoping, in 1995, shortly after Rupert had bought STAR TV and wanted to expand into China.
  • Many millions to Jeffrey Archer for his novels when the former Tory
    party chief still wielded considerable influence in the British
    government of the day.
  • An undisclosed deal with Queensland
    Premier Peter Beattie last year at the time of the News Corp move to
    America and Queensland Press-related party transactions dramatically
    reduced Australian ownership of The Courier Mail and the Gold Coast Bulletin. A patriotic Queensland premier would have spoken out against the move. Beattie raised no concerns.

However, the latest example involves the Saudi Prince who helped
carry the day for Rupert at last month’s AGM in New York and has
declared his hand backing Rupert in his struggle with John Malone. The Independent in London had an interesting piece on Prince Alwaleed last week which included the following:

Questions were asked last week about a series of full-page
broadsheet advertisements promoting a biography of Prince Alwaleed Bin
Talal Alsaud, the American-educated nephew of the late Saudi King Fahd,
who is rumoured to give away more than $100m a year. Indeed, Americans
like to think of him as “the Saudi Warren Buffet”, the multimillionaire
investor who last week sold his memoirs for $7m. Alwaleed: Businessman Billionaire Prince,
an authorised life by Riz Khan, is published by HarperCollins in what
cynics were suggesting might be a so-called vanity deal. It’s not clear
whether the Prince is a business associate of Rupert Murdoch, whose
News Corp owns HarperCollins.

He certainly is a business associate. The Prince voted his crucial 5.5%
voting stake in News Corp in support of all resolutions. If he’d gone
the other way, the pay rise for directors would have gone close to
being rolled. Will a flattering biography promoted by the News Corp
empire help secure the Prince’s voting support if we really do get a
showdown for control with John Malone?

Similarly, will the likes of Fox News and the Murdoch tabloids curtail
some of their blatant Muslim-bashing now that the world’s richest
Muslim is a key ally of Rupert Murdoch. After all, the Saudi Prince
presumably buys stakes in American media companies such as News Corp
and Time Warner for influence as well as financial returns.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani famously rejected a $US10
million donation from Prince Al-Walid bin Talal after the September 11
attacks because he said the following: “At times like this one, we must
address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I
believe the government of the United States of America should
re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced
stance toward the Palestinian cause.” Al-Walid later blamed Giuliani’s
decision on “Jewish pressures”.

Here’s a sample of some of the Arab media reaction at the time. If the same thing happened again today, how would the Murdoch outlets play it?