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Nov 17, 2005

Rupert Murdoch, a supportive Saudi Prince and a book deal

With just one opportunity to ask Rupert Murdoch a question at yesterday's News Corp shareholder information meeting, which topic to choose? After all, you could ask 100 questions and

With just one opportunity to ask Rupert
Murdoch a question at yesterday’s News Corp shareholder information
meeting, which topic to choose? After all, you could ask 100 questions
and still barely be started with arguably the most fascinating media
mogul in history.

After Rupert’s “good friend” Steve Askew
tested the patience of the old and WASPish audience with a 45-minute
presentation on STAR TV, complete with video clips in Hindi and
Mandarin, the first shareholder to speak ripped into the performance as
“pathetic,” something that CBD editor James Chessell reported in today’s SMH.

That
opened up an opportunity for Crikey to play the good guy by praising
the presentations, including an interesting 15-minute slide show from
Sky Italia CEO Tom Mockridge, and then make a couple of introductory
remarks about what a good turn-out it was in Adelaide compared with the
miserable 33 shareholders who registered in New York.

Rupert
then made some crack along the lines of “you asked all 33 questions in
New York,” but he was generous in his answers to my omnibus question
about two key relationships that he hadn’t commented on publicly. In
summary, the exchange went as follows:

Relationship one:
Given Super League and all the other grief that came from Telstra under
Frank Blount and Ziggy Switkowski, how are relations with the new
management team led by Sol Trujillo? Foxtel is the only example of News
Corp having a pay TV joint venture with a major incumbent telco, so
what does Telstra’s big broadband strategy mean for Foxtel given that
it could eventually compete directly with Foxtel?

Murdoch: Rupert’s answer formed part of what constituted today’s Chanticleer column in The AFR.
The Telstra relationship was important and complex, but Sol had been
too busy to meet ahead of the strategic review. The broadband strategy
was similar to the punt by American telcos such as Verizon, but Telstra
would be laying new cable on virgin territory, although it was unclear
what sort of capacity should be used.

Relationship two:
What does the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal want from News Corp in
return for his very strong support of the Murdoch family’s ongoing
control of the company through his strategic 5.5% voting stake, which
was used at the recent AGM. We’ve already published his biography, but
does he want anything else, such as influence over how the company
covers Islamic issues?

Murdoch: All he asked for was the book which turned out OK in the end, but he’s not after anything else from the company.

Given
the very loud support that Prince Alwaleed, reputedly the 12th richest
man in the world, has given Rupert, as you can see in this piece from The Street, it is a fascinating disclosure that company resources have been used to return a favour.

The
Prince was a non-entity in global media circles before he started
buying US media stocks and now he’s had a propaganda triumph with the
world’s second biggest publisher promoting and distributing a gushing
biography.

What next? Crikey suddenly becoming a pro-Murdoch
advocate in return for Harper Collins publishing a book chronicling the
history of our little ezine. It is very surprising that Rupert’s
disclosure was completely ignored by the media covering yesterday’s
meeting given that the Prince will probably have a say in the peace
deal with John Malone and any future decisions on succession.

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