News Ltd chairman John Hartigan gave quite an entertaining and interesting address for the Andrew Olle memorial lecture last Friday. However, there was a touch of hypocrisy in some of his comments when you consider what his boss Rupert Murdoch was doing in New York a couple of hours later.
Here was Harto on press freedom and information flows:
While journalism might be in good shape, information isn’t. We live in times when press freedom – the freedom of speech – is more restricted than in living memory.
He then briefly touched on the big and important campaign he’s been leading this year to free up freedom of information laws, overturn suppression orders and further reform the defamation laws.
Yet just three hours later Rupert Murdoch was at his secretive and dictatorial worst, treating News Corp shareholders with disdain and curtailing free speech more aggressively than he’s done at any AGM I’ve seen.
The proponents of the two shareholder resolutions were each told they had two minutes, he then gave me three minutes to discuss the entire slate of directors up for re-election and when it came to general questions at the end, he imposed a limit of two questions per shareholder that had to be asked in one minute.
Despite spending $5000 coming all the way from Australia for the exercise, Rupert declared my “quota” was full after answering just one question during the general business at the end of the meeting. In 1999 he tolerated 16 straight questions over about 40 minutes.
Whilst the general media were allowed into the meeting and to film the closing press conference, the video freelancer I’d hired, who works for MTV in New York, was specifically banned from any involvement.
And News Corporation journalists around the world would be rightly outraged if a leading politician couldn’t answer the simply question: when were you last re-elected?
Despite formally putting the question on notice before the meeting and then repeatedly asking it at the AGM, there has still been no answer. And there is no way to lodge an FOI request on News Corporation.
It is also interesting to look at the way the Murdoch press covered the News Corp AGM. Jane Schulze is The Australian’s Media editor. She was at the John Hartigan lecture by 7.30pm on Friday night but miraculously got this story up on The Australian’s website for Saturday morning.
Jane clearly got the drop on Rupert’s prepared speech but it means she filed a piece only pushing the company spin and missing all the real AGM action. Compare that with what The Guardian published at around the same time.
A lifetime of bad habits won’t change at News Corp unless Rupert makes a directive that his journalists and editors are to stop treating him with kid gloves.