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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