The News Ltd papers went for the full slaver today, The Australian running ten articles and commentaries on the News Corp bid for the Wall Street Journal, whereas the Fairfax papers gave it normal treatment for an interesting but small US play involving a former Australian citizen and media magnate.

A deal twice the size of News’s WSJ play happened overnight: the privatisation of Cablevision, a major New York area Pay TV business. That is just as significant in the US context because Cablevision is large and very important to News Corp. It carries Fox cable channels and is competitor to News’s free to air TV network in the US.

The fact that the Dolan family has finally tired of life as a public company is significant in these days of free and easy liquidity and private equity funds on every corner.

But it won’t get the splash that Murdoch’s WSJ move did in News Corp papers, nor the slavish following of the Sun King’s line, which is one of the reasons why the WSJ move should be worrying for the media generally.

Here’s an example from one story in The Australian’s Media Section today:

One of the most influential media families in the US has used its super-voting rights to reject News Corporation’s $6 billion takeover offer for their legacy, the venerable Dow Jones & Company. But pressure is building on the three dozen adult members of the Bancroft family — who together control just over 64% of Dow Jones shares — to justify their rejection of an offer that contained a 65% premium to Monday’s $US36.33 ($44.02) closing share price.

Through a dual-class stock structure common in newspaper companies, the Bancrofts’ B class shares give family members control over the huge media group as they have 10 times the voting power of other shares.

The Bancrofts are able to vote their shares as they wish.

Nowhere in the story was any mention of the dual class of shares in News Corp, introduced to protect the Murdoch interests and to allow him to restructure his personal trusts and to maintain family control. Nor was there any mention that the Murdoch interests “are able to vote their shares as they wish”.

That small but significant omission tells you a lot about the way the Murdoch media report the affairs of their owner, especially the business pages.

Nothing is allowed that might threaten anything corporate (or your job). Call it self-censorship, call it media manipulation but when News Corp papers start reporting all the affairs of the owner, then the company might be a worthy owner of the Wall Street Journal.

Can you really imagine Murdoch tolerating some of the hard edged reporting of his affairs that the WSJ‘s reporters have done on their company and the splits in the Bancroft family?

Peter Fray

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