Something very strange happened over the weekend. News Corporation strategically released a whole bunch of information in the early hours of Saturday morning and the Australian media has chosen to ignore the s-xiest element.

Sure, the retirement of long-serving directors such as Ken Cowley and Tom Perkins is worth a mention and it was magnanimous of James Murdoch to voluntarily surrender his $US6 million bonus, keeping his overall package for 2010-11 down to $US11.9 million. But why hasn’t anyone focused on Rupert Murdoch giving himself a 43% pay rise to a record $US33.3 million in 2010-11?

The chutzpah of getting so excessively rewarded after presiding over one of the biggest governance scandals to ever engulf a public company is quite extraordinary. This is the how the top five News Corp executives fared in 2010-11:

  1. Rupert Murdoch: $33.3 million
  2. Chase Carey: $30.15 million
  3. David Devoe: $18.24 million
  4. Roger Ailes: $15.55 million
  5. James Murdoch: $US11.9 million

And this is what they got in 2009-10:

  1. Chase Carey $26 million
  2. Rupert Murdoch $22.72 million
  3. Roger Ailes $13.96 million
  4. James Murdoch $10.3 million
  5. David Devoe $7.13 million

If the independent directors really are trying to place more emphasis on Carey, then why have they allowed Rupert to jump ahead of him on the pay stakes?

It is worth asking the question as to whether Rupert Murdoch has been paid more in salary by a public company than any other person in history. This is how much he has been paid over the past 13 years:

  • 2010-11: $US33.3 million
  • 2009-10: $US22.72 million
  • 2008-09: $US19.88 million
  • 2007-08: $US27.55 million
  • 2006-07: $US32.14 million
  • 2005-06: $US25.9 million
  • 2004-05: $US23.64 million
  • 2003-04: $US20.65 million
  • 2002-03: $US14.1 million
  • 2001-02: $US9.21 million
  • 2000-01: $US7.58 million
  • 1999-00: $US6.53 million
  • 1998-99: $US6.34 million

That’s a total of $249.54 million. If anyone can come up with a bigger number, please let us know.

For an insight on how Rupert reacts to questions on executive pay issues, consider this exchange at the 2010 AGM:

Stephen Mayne: CGI Glass Lewis, the proxy advisory firm, has their list of the 25 most egregious or overpaid executives in the S&P500, they rank you at number 18. The 18th most egregious or overpaid or at least hard to justify …

Rupert Murdoch: Who is this?

Stephen Mayne: CGI Glass Lewis, one of the two big proxy advisory firms. They tell shareholders how to vote their stock. Warren Buffett gets by on $US100,000 a year; you’re a multibillionaire. Why do you need to be paid such a huge sum that is actually rated as of one of the most over-the-top payments in corporate America?

Rupert Murdoch: I have a fraction of Mr Buffett’s wealth, and Mr Buffett doesn’t have to do that, he only has to sell a few shares every year to have many many billions to play with.

And all this from a company which has underperformed the market for the past 15 years.

Amusingly, News Corporation outlets love to attack elected officials over salary levels. Last week, the Herald Sun took a swipe at Victorian council CEOs earning $300,000 and capital city councillors travelling overseas. I submitted the following letter for publication:

How predictable that the Herald Sun has once again attacked the travel costs of elected local government councillors and the salaries of council CEOs.

Whilst elected officials and bureaucrats are fair game, it should also be noted that the Herald Sun’s proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, was paid an exorbitant $US22.72 million in 2009-10 and that he flies around the world in private jets that are paid for by long-suffering News Corp shareholders.

The Murdoch family owns about 13% of News Corp yet the shareholders who own the other 87% of the company are never told how much money is spent on private jets.

At least Melbourne City Councillors are transparent by seeking specific approval in open council each time they travel overseas on council business.

Stephen Mayne
City of Manningham councillor

Surprise, surprise, this company that Andrew Bolt so lauds for championing free speech, decided to censor this contribution. And speaking of travel, it would be fair to assume that not one dollar of shareholder funds were spent getting all of the Murdoch family and friends to the banks of the River Jordon for Grace Murdoch’s christening last year.

Godfather Tony Blair presumably paid his own way, as usual.

*Stephen Mayne is a director of the Australian Shareholders’ Association and company monitor for News Corp. He will be travelling to Fox Studios in Los Angeles for the 2011 AGM on October 21.

Peter Fray

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