Rupert Murdoch hasn’t uttered a private
word to Crikey since we politely chatted after the 1999 News Corp AGM,
but some of his henchmen were a little friendlier than usual after
yesterday’s “shareholder information meeting” in Adelaide’s newly
launched Keith Murdoch House.

Finance director Dave Devoe
strolled past during the tea and sandwiches session (there was no wine
despite Rupert saying there should be) and formally introduced himself
for the first time and then said “thanks for playing by the rules
today.”

The rules were one question per shareholder and given
that the entire occasion was a voluntary affair, it would have been
unreasonable to grandstand, especially when it wasn’t clear that Rupert
Murdoch would be coming back every year. Only five shareholders spoke
and the last one got the answer many were hoping for when Rupert
committed to returning every year.

Given Rupert’s glowing praise
for the News Awards the night before, don’t be surprised if this
becomes an annual management, journalistic and shareholder love-in at
the company’s brand new shrine to Rupert’s dad. Yesterday’s meeting was
packed with executives from across the Murdoch empire and the two
presentations about STAR and Sky Italia were so detailed they were almost
suitable for a management conference.

Shortly after Devoe’s
surprise introduction, the two top managers from the Herald &
Weekly Times, CEO Julian Clarke and general manager John Webster, both
shook hands and said hello when strolling past, although it was all
relatively brief as there is nothing to be gained for a News Corp
executive talking to Crikey.

With only Rupert’s family group, a
handful of shareholders and a few key executives left, it was time to
depart the fourth floor venue. However, three journalists were waiting
next to the lift for a quick chat so we had a mini press conference for
about five minutes, a grab of which turned up on PM last night.

Former
Clinton adviser turned Murdoch external relations boss Gary Ginsberg
briefly interrupted this presser mid-sentence to say hello, but the
highlight was the question about whether News Corp’s dividend will be
lifted again. The ever loyal veteran News Corp director Ken Cowley, who
copped a blast at the New York AGM over his claimed “independent”
status, was coming down the stairs and walking past our gathering, so I
loudly said to the cameras: “If directors like Ken Cowley would only
change their policy, shareholders would get more.” WHACK! Uncle Ken let
fly with the papers he was clutching against my arm and we both had a
chuckle.

Even the lift encounters were polite. The old Richmond
Club II cricket team mate Ross Greenwood cheerily said hello going up,
even though he’s copped plenty of grief for his Channel Nine work on
Crikey over the past two years and News Ltd spindoctor Greg Baxter said
hello in a packed lift going down, even though he’s copped the odd
blast for his former role as the chief spinner for James Hardie during
its dastardly asbestos dodging restructuring.

All up, it was one
of the friendlier moods at a News Corp shareholders’ meeting in recent
years, which probably reflected satisfaction that any opportunity for
some detailed probing was quickly eliminated by 90 minutes of formal
presentations in a room with no air conditioning and lunch beckoning.

Rupert
never has liked answering shareholder questions and even though that
was meant to be the main purpose of yesterday’s meeting, less than 10%
of the time was devoted to questions and Rupert signalled at the outset
that questions would only last for a few minutes.